Friday, May 20, 2022

750-home project in Rocky Point approved after year of fluid negotiations

A subdivision of massive size was approved next to a relatively tiny Pender County neighborhood after a year of negotiations. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

PENDER COUNTY — The campaign from Tribute Companies to construct a 750-home neighborhood in Rocky Point, large enough to double the community’s population, finally got the county’s blessing Tuesday.

Falls Mist Village — the single-family project set for 300 acres bounded by Highway 210 and U.S. Route 117 — was first considered by the board of commissioners a year ago. The site shares a border with an existing neighborhood of a few dozen homes, Fall Brook. The homeowners there came out in force against the proposed project and the idea of their road network being connected into a new subdivision. 

Commissioners sympathized with nearby residents who feared abundant traffic on their streets, specifically the use of quiet, neighborhood roads as means of access to Route 117 for residents of the future project. The board tabled the request at a meeting in January 2021, telling the developers to further study traffic impacts.

In November, the project returned, with the commissioners even more wary of it. They voted to deny Falls Mist Village, and the meeting appeared to be winding down. One local, who was eager to keep new-growth traffic out of his neighborhood, returned to the podium with news of a wildcard deal: The owner of a parcel that borders both the existing neighborhood and the Falls Mist Village site — and had Route 117 frontage — had signaled a willingness to sell. This sparked everyone’s interest. The board of commissioners revoked their denial at the November meeting and told the project team to explore the prospect. It showed just how fluid these negotiations can be.

On Tuesday, Sam Potter, an attorney for Tribute Companies, told the board of commissioners the project team was under contract for the lot in question. After fine-tuning an agreement over infrastructure improvements and their timing, which has been brewing since the project was first proposed in 2020, the board of commissioners ultimately approved the application for Falls Mist Village at the Tuesday meeting.

At issue is the area’s road connectivity. Designs for Falls Mist Village put the main entrance and exit to the development on Highway 210, to the north of the site. For additional access, developers originally proposed using a stubbed, dead-end road in the adjacent Fall Brook neighborhood as a route. Drivers could access Route 117 to the southeast, but the plan essentially made Fall Brook a pass-through between the future subdivision and Route 117.

But, if the developers were able to acquire this new 9-acre piece of land between the Falls Mist Village site and the highway, the Fall Brook road networks would not have to be relied upon as heavily. 

Potter vowed during the meeting to build a road connection between Falls Mist Village and Route 117 — one that does not involve Fall Brook at all —  before the 600th home gets occupied. This connection would likely utilize the 9-acre mystery parcel, called the Leuven tract based on the name of the limited liability company that owns it, Potter, whose 43rd birthday coincided with the Tuesday approval, said at the meeting. (Through a back-and-forth with Potter, commissioner Jackie Newton negotiated that 600 number down from a tentatively planned 700. She tried to go for 500.) 

Also, pursuant to the arrangement, developers cannot hook their roads into the stumped, dead-end of Fall Brook until the 700th home of Falls Mist Village is occupied — delaying traffic impacts to the smaller neighborhood for a few years. The terms were largely brokered by commissioner George Brown, whose district includes Rocky Point. In asking the developers to not connect Fall Brook’s dead-end road until the occupation of the 700th home, Brown hoped to protect the smaller neighborhood from construction traffic, he said at the Tuesday meeting.  

In this series of public hearings, the developers of Falls Mist Village have been pursuing a conditional rezoning request for the 300-acre property, which would allow them to build up to 750 homes as opposed to around 550. After more than a year of negotiation over what concessions Tribute Companies would have to make in exchange for the extra homes, the board of commissioners voted 3-1 in favor of the application; Fred McCoy dissented. 

“We can’t stop them from building the 550 homes,” Brown said at the meeting. “We can stop them from building more by not granting the rezoning, but the whole idea of the concessions that are made was to keep the traffic out of your neighborhood. If you tell them 550, they don’t have to build that new road.”

The Leuven tract’s owner is Leuven, LLC, according to property records, an entity associated with a Figure Eight beach house and a woman named Valerie Bauwens. The company bought a few hundred thousand dollars worth of property in New Hanover County in 2019, according to property records. Reached at the Miami-area phone number included in the company’s filings, Bauwens declined to comment on the deal, saying it was too early to discuss details.

“I know this is not perfect for any of the parties involved,” chairman David Piepmeyer said at the meeting, “but I think we came to some sort of compromise that everyone can live with.”

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