WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH –– With the summer rush in rearview, elected officials took action on housekeeping items and more at Wednesday’s board of aldermen meeting. The board acted on holiday lighting limits and zoning code tweaks, while in the public comment section, two beachfront property owners jousted over the legality of high-dollar homebuilding that’s been taking place on Augusta Street.
On the town’s calendar: Causeway Drive will reopen at 9:30 a.m. for Saturday’s Ironman race, which starts with a 1.2-mile swim in Banks Channel early morning. Participants then head toward downtown Wilmington for the 56 mile bike ride, and conclude the half-marathon across from the Battleship. Also coming up, Paddleboard races, including a 13-mile, around-the-island course, will take place Nov. 3-7 as part of the Carolina Cup.
Elections: Alderman Ken Dull and Mayor Pro Tem Hank Miller are running unopposed for re-election. Mayor Darryl Mills, an attorney, is running for re-election against challenger Greg Buscemi, who recently filed suit against Wrightsville Beach and other jurisdictions over parking laws. This year is a redo of the last municipal election, when Mills beat Buscemi for his mayoral seat in 2019.
Here’s a rundown of the board’s meeting Wednesday. The full agenda can be read here, and the next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 10.
Setting the stage for future a redevelopment project
West of the bridge, there are a few parcels along Wrightsville Avenue and nearby within the corporate limits of the town, meaning they’re subject to beach zoning laws rather than Wilmington’s. Among the handful is the former Polar Pack gas station property located at 7006 Wrightsville Ave.
In June, an attorney representing the landowner submitted a “text amendment” application, which alters town code, proposing conditions that would make redevelopment of the lot easier under local regulations. The board approved the text amendment at its meeting Wednesday.
The text amendment applies to “small lots” that are in one specific commercial district, 21,000 square feet or smaller, and in the vicinity of Wrightsville Avenue. There’s only two additional lots like this, both of them directly across the street from the empty-for-years gas station property. This change decreases the required front-yard setback for accessory structures from 30 to 15 feet, and the rear setback for accessory structures from 20 to 10 feet.
Decks and patios can be moved closer to the parcel boundaries under the change, which will allow more space to work within small lots where there are also landscaping and parking regulations to account for.
The lot was purchased by Tribute Investment and Development, Inc. in 2019, property records show. It was quickly moved to a limited liability company tied to Tribute Properties founder Mark Maynard (South Front Apartments, Arboretum West), and then sold to an LLC affiliated with Kevin G. Walker, whose attorney pitched the text amendment at the meeting.
An attorney for Walker told Port City Daily it’s too soon to talk specifics on future development of the lot.
Timeframe established for holiday pier lighting
Residents across the island typically take part in spreading the vibe around the time of the Flotilla, when lighted boats parade through Banks Channel in competition. The board approved some parameters for when piers can be lit this holiday season: Lighting will be allowed between the Saturday before Thanksgiving, up until the Saturday after New Year’s Day. The lights have to be turned off after 9 p.m.
The town’s lighting ordinance previously allowed holiday lighting between Thanksgiving and Jan. 15, but it only addressed the exterior of buildings. Bare light sources on piers and docks have technically been banned across-the-board up until now.
“The Flotilla Committee is requesting that the lights be allowed to remain up an extended timeframe,” according to the meeting agenda.
Speed limit reduction request
Rick Crowder, a resident of the south side of Wrightsville Beach, asked the board to reduce the speed limit by 10 miles per hour on Waynick Boulevard, the 35 mile-per-hour roadway that takes travelers from the Banks Channel Bridge to the South End.
Crowder had gone so far as to invite and host N.C. Department of Transportation engineer Chad Kimes at his home deck to view the traffic conditions for himself.
Between the 200-plus parking spaces on the west side of the street, and the long row of sound-side docks belonging to homeowners, it’s common to have plenty of foot traffic crossing the street both ways, Crowder said. He called it the “Waynick shuffle,” and asked town leaders to make a request for NCDOT to lower the speed limit; Wrightsville Beach doesn’t have authority to change the traveling speed on the state-maintained road.
Mills said action wouldn’t be taken on the idea during the meeting, as is standard response to public comment speeches.
Beachfront homeowners spar over construction practices
One year ago, two brothers building a pair of homes on Augusta Street filed a text amendment application that would make the required setbacks more agreeable to their plans. That idea was then shot down by the board.
Since then, Timothy and Thomas Conley constructed and sold one of the Augusta Street homes, and the second one is currently being built. Henry Fonvielle, whose oceanfront home on Augusta Street is next door to the construction, has attempted to block the Conleys, alleging there were deficiencies in the Coastal Area Management Act permit approval process.
On the other side of Fonvielle’s house, the Conleys are building two additional homes on Raleigh Street. Both Fonvielle and Thomas Conley spoke during the public comment section of the meeting. One woman who lives nearby the scene also spoke, yelling at the politicians about experiences of slow responses to public service calls, and her anger about the Conleys’ oceanside construction: “The old guard has spoken!” she said.
Fonvielle accused the brothers of undermining town code by building a home with a footprint that encroaches boundary lines set for environmental protection. Conley, who attended the meeting with his attorney, countered that multiple surveyors have signed off on the plans, which have been approved by all necessary regulators. Fonvielle scoffed in the audience as Conley said Fonvielle’s home is a rental property and he doesn’t even live there.
The director of Wrightsville Beach Public Works also warned the board that an ongoing staffing shortage is causing impacts to services like trash collection. He asked for approval on a plan that would raise salaries in the department, but it was not immediately acted on by the board.
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