WILMINGTON — Two businesses along Oleander Drive, less than a quarter-mile apart, received the blessing of Wilmington’s Planning Commission Wednesday night to rezone their properties, despite outcry from neighbors of Seagate.
Neither business was seeking a rezoning for the purpose of actually erecting any structures. Wendy’s House, a wine and cheese shop that opened earlier in the fall, was applying for a conditional district to allow for parking and landscaping to complement an incoming venue next door.
A few blocks away, Seagate Bottle Shop was attempting to come into compliance with the city’s zoning regulations after being handed down multiple violations associated with holding outdoor events and concerts.
Residents living behind the commercial establishments were anxious to see any enhancements considered for a business selling alcohol, after being subjected to amplified sound from the bottle shop.
“All I hear from inside my house is boom, boom, boom,” said Steve Martin, whose wife is president of the Preservation Park Homeowners Association.
The new land development code, which took effect Dec. 1, does not allow amplified sound within 1,000 feet of any residence.
Wendy’s House is subject to the old code, having applied for its rezoning prior to the new code taking effect. However, the shop owners have vowed to not take advantage, voluntarily committing to nix amplified music and events outside.
On behalf of the owners, land-use consultant Cindee Wolf explained their intention of rezoning three adjoining parcels, totaling 2.35 acres, to one singular zoning was to allow for 52 parking spaces and a garden. The existing wine shop and future assembly hall, which currently is a vacant church, are both already permitted under the current zoning and would continue being allowed if requests are approved.
The parking would accommodate the new assembly hall, dubbed “The Venue at Wendy’s,” soon to undergo renovations. The church-turned-events venue would host weddings, memorials and parties, but cannot open without at least 27 spaces required by city code. Site plans propose 52 spots.
Wolf described the landscaping as 80 feet of gardens, with a pond and possible paths. She said it would serve as a photo opportunity and a space for guests to walk around. At most, she said a temporary tent may be set up behind the building during events.
The city’s planning staff recommended the commission deny the plans, suggesting offices or a higher-density residential project would make for a more appropriate transition in the space between the commercial stretch of Oleander and homes. Wolf said she was surprised by the guidance.
“This is consistent with supporting our businesses and allowing them to enhance themselves,” Wolf said. “Whereas an encroachment into the Seagate neighborhood with townhomes or offices, when we’re offering a pond and gardens, I find it hard to, you know, justify.”
The planning commissioners were on board but took issue with the lack of communication to residents about the plans. Wolf confirmed attendance was low at the required community feedback event, but it turned out some neighbors hadn’t received an invite. They showed out to the public hearing Wednesday night with concerns about people, possibly inebriated, venturing into their yards or parking on their streets.
At the podium, Martin told the commission he was unaware of the zoning case at Wendy’s House until he drove by the city’s blue sign, posted on the property, announcing the upcoming hearing. He and other neighbors on Perennial Lane, Sebrell and Myrtle avenues said they received no letter, calls or any other form of notification.
“They made no attempt,” Martin said.
Staff said they were not required to reach out to homeowners on Perennial Lane due to the distance, but they amended the notification list to include the entire street moving forward. Wolf said she mailed 50 invitations to the community meeting based on a list she received from the city, which she assumed included all residents of Preservation Park.
“It sounds like the letter of the law was met here and maybe not the spirit,” planning chair JC Lyle said.
Still, commissioners didn’t think postponing the item would change the outcome of their decision.
“A lot of the neighbors would beg for a garden and parking instead of multi-family near there,” Lyle said.
The planning commission recommended city council approve the plans on a few conditions, including Wendy’s cannot host outdoor events, gatherings or tents within the garden portion of the property. Commissioner Al Sharp was the sole “nay” vote.
Seagate Bottle Shop
The distrust of Wendy’s House to landscape gardens with no-strings-attached appeared to be influenced by one other item on the planning commission’s agenda.
Over the summer, Seagate Bottle Shop was issued violations associated with its outdoor music shows and operating as a “nightclub.”
The business owner is now appealing the violations to the city’s board of adjustment and is attempting to rezone the entire property to community business to bring it a step closer to being in compliance. Under the new land development code, it can operate as a nightclub (without outdoor amplified music) in community business zoning. However, a portion of the property –– where the stage was built without a permit –– is currently zoned office and institutional.
Staff recommended the commission rezone the triangular piece of property to match the majority of the land. Attorney Matt Nichols, representing Seagate Bottle Shop, made a case that the city needed to remedy the unusual case of split zoning.
“We don’t really know how this came about,” Nichols said. “There’s really not … any other split zoned property in this vicinity of Oleander.”
Neighbors who spoke during the hearing suggested by greenlighting the rezoning, the commission was helping the business in a mission to resume concerts. They complained the noise from the business interrupted childrens’ sleep, disturbed their peace, and invited cars to line their front yards.
“There’s never been any problems arising from this business … location until it became an outdoor concert venue,” said Dan Bailey, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood. “Let’s not mince words. That is what it is when you charge per-head to go listen to music.”
Bailey said the rezoning was a case of “when you ask for one thing, but you’re really trying to get another,” and accused the attorney and business owner of attempting to get grandfathered into the old code at some point to resume amplified music outside.
Seagate Bottle Shop is applying for after-the-fact permits for the illegal stage and has ceased outdoor amplified music as of Oct. 30, Nichols reported. The attorney argued the shop was following Covid-19 safety protocols when it moved activity outside and was attempting to navigate through challenging economic times for businesses caused by the pandemic.
“The outdoor music became an issue, but like I said that has stopped,” Nichols said. “We’re going to try to work through that and see what might be allowed.”
After some conversation about possible attempts to expand the business into the newly zoned commercial area, commissioner John Lennon pointed out that any person could open a nightclub on the strip. He then motioned for approval of the rezoning request.
“I think we’re getting out ahead of ourselves here on a business model that doesn’t have a good history and that we don’t like versus a rezoning request, which to me is pretty black and white,” Lennon said.
Jack Pollock, a newly appointed member of the board as of Wednesday, was the sole vote against the recommendation to city council.
Council will review both cases at a date to be determined. The board of adjustment is reviewing the business’ appeals to its violations in January.
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