NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Armed with a favorable opinion from the N.C. Court of Appeals, developers can now march forward on a project that has long been in standstill in the Ogden area.
Middle Sound West, a mixed-use development proposal backed by Tribute Companies, faced pushback when it was first proposed in 2019. Nervous about the impact on their neighborhoods, locals fought against it; so too did the county commissioners, who denied the project last June after delaying a vote for months.
The case ended up in court. For “special use permit” requests like this one, state law demands that only expert testimony, on a limited range of topics, can sway the opinions of public bodies. Superior Court Judge Frank Jones sided with the county last year and concluded New Hanover was within its rights to reject Middle Sound West.
A Court of Appeals opinion filed Nov. 2 has reversed that decision, deeming New Hanover County’s denial of Middle Sound West out of line. On orders from the court, county commissioners awarded the special use permit to the applicant Monday morning.
Tom Terrell, an attorney for Tribute Companies, said the initial court decision was contrary to established case law in North Carolina, and so the Court of Appeals ruling was not a surprise.
“Tribute appreciates the county’s expeditious issuance of the permit and looks forward to working with the county moving forward on this and other projects,” Terrell said in a statement.
Three months ago, the landowner Coswald, LLC sold the parcel to a newly created limited liability company affiliated with Mark Maynard Sr., president and CEO of Tribute Companies. The sale price was $6.7 million, according to property records.
Middle Sound West was pitched as a 15-acre development to occupy half of a 30-acre tract on Market Street, just north of the connection with Military Cutoff Road, which the N.C. Department of Transportation is now extending out.
Worries of more traffic and the known propensity for local flooding (Hurricane Florence had hit one year prior) made locals and county officials wary about the project in 2019, despite the assurances from developers that traffic flow from Middle Sound West would be less impactful than it would be if the lot was developed according to its business zoning.
County commissioners ultimately decreed the proposed development “posed a danger to public health and safety,” and the Superior Court agreed. Though the Court of Appeals, reversing the decision, said the county commissioners’ findings were “unsupported by competent, material, and substantial evidence.”
“The superior court erred in affirming the Board’s denial of the special use permit,” according to the Court of Appeals ruling. “We reverse and remand the judgment of the superior court with instructions that the matter be remanded to the Board of County Commissioners with an instruction to issue the special use permit.”
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