WILMINGTON — Development plans for roughly 1.9 acres of vacant land off Masonboro Loop Road are shifting from a mixed-use complex to upscale townhomes.
Owners Regina and David Drury are seeking a rezoning for the property, located across the street from the Courtyard at Masonboro at 3380 and 3400 Masonboro Loop Road, to make way for the 16 townhouses. Expected to sell in the $400,000’s, the residences would span 1,800- to 2,000-square-feet and feature a garage.
This is the third time in three years the owners have sought city-approved zoning changes for the tract.
Wilmington City Council will consider approving the rezoning during its regular meeting Tuesday night. Last month, in a split vote, the planning commission recommended council deny the request after receiving a flurry of emails and listening to opposition from neighbors during a public hearing. However, staff OK’d the plans.
The property neighbors single-family homes in Andrews Reach and sits across from several non-residential uses on the other side of Masonboro Loop, including a fire station and a commercial center, home to The Veggie Wagon and other businesses.
“The project provides additional housing options and may serve as a suitable transition between an existing neighborhood node and the surrounding residential areas,” a letter from staff to council states.
In 2018, council rezoned the land to office and institutional for a project called “The Porches At Masonboro,” a plan under the same ownership. The proposal included two 2,400-square-feet office spaces on the ground floor with two residences above each and a fifth unit on top of a detached garage.
In 2020, the zoning was brought back to council for several modifications.
Design Solutions’ Cindee Wolf, who is applying for the rezoning on the owners’ behalf, explained to the planning commission that, with Covid-19 altering work trends, the owners are no longer interested in creating business rental spaces. Plus, real estate broker Regina Drury did not plan to live or work on the property anymore, Wolf said.
This time around, the proposal is put forth to meet an unnamed developer’s vision. The Drurys will sell the land to the developer upon plan approval, according to the agenda review discussion Monday.
Now, back in its third iteration, four planning commission members rejected the new plans. Member Bruce Bowman called it inappropriate based on the density, heights and proximity to the side lots. Of chief concern to dissenting residents was privacy; the townhomes would peer over fences and create new sightlines for several neighbors, renderings submitted to the board show.
Wolf defended her clients’ request, telling planning members it fills a housing need and puts to use an underutilized tract in a developed area. She noted the density was two units below the maximum amount allowed in the requested zoning district.
Since the meeting, the applicant has submitted an appeal of the planning commission’s denial and updated site plans with shorter buildings, which was another main concerns of neighbors and the commissioners. The revised proposal includes two-story structures, rather than two and a half, and a maximum height of 26 feet.
At Monday’s agenda briefing, council briefly debated whether the item should go back to the planning board given the changes and appeal before they vote on it Tuesday, however council will still review the item.
The new designs also enhance the buffers along the north and south sides to create a more visual divide between the proposed townhomes and the residential lots, according to planning documents.
Previously the designs had a maximum height of 35 feet. Wolf said the elevation was similar to the neighboring homes.
“We just want a leveled playing field when we’re talking about the height in districts,” Wolf said during the Sept. 1 planning meeting.
A couple of neighbors argued it was not a “level playing field” since the Drury’s property is on a hill, above the structures in Andrews Reach.
During the public hearing, the neighbors suggested the townhouses would “tower” over their properties, diminishing privacy and increasing stormwater runoff. It’s also close to Masonboro Elementary, which one speaker argued would worsen traffic. Wolf contended the difference in predicted trips during the school’s pickup and drop-off times is negligible.
A multi-use path expected to promote bicycling and walking from the campus to Andrews Reach may relieve some concerns about road congestion. The city is in the property acquisition phase of the project. Construction is expected to begin this year.
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