SOUTHPORT — Balance between nature and development was the concern of a committee that oversees possible environmental impacts that the proposed Project Indigo could have on Southport.
If approved, the Project Indigo development could house half of Southport’s current population. As Indigo Phase II, the subdivision would become the neighbor of Indigo Plantation and Indigo Marina, both developed by East West Partners in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
It would include 1,542 residential units, consisting of condos, duplexes, townhomes and cottages. It also will be a mixed-use development, including restaurants, retail, amenities and a medical office. The community would connect to Indigo Marina and potentially a boardwalk to downtown Southport.
Southport’s Planning Board has sub-committees, including environmental, traffic, infrastructure and design, and character, overseeing the project in its early stages. The environmental group — Scott Jones, Gustavo Mibelli and Maureen Meehan — met Wednesday to discuss how to limit negative environmental effects and accommodate Southport residents. The development, spanning 346 acres, would be the biggest since Southport’s founding and require rezoning and annexation into city limits.
Committee member Mibelli said he was concerned about dividing the open space, to be used for recreational purposes and greenery.
“I think this is a key issue. If we’re going to look at being careful with the environment by chopping it up, we separate species, we modify drainage. There’s a lot of things that can be said about the disadvantages of that division,” Mibelli said.
According to Southport’s land ordinance, 20% of the development must be open space. The project’s developers, Bald Head Island Limited and East West Partners, include 75.4 open space acres in their design, 0.4 acres over the minimum. There are three major open areas in the current plan, but Mibelli, along with committee member Jones, had doubts.
“What I have in my mind is, for instance, Taylor Field [Park], which is open space with trails and the dog park and some other amenities. Well, I would hate to see one of these areas look like that,” Jones said. “Nothing against a dog park but [it’s] a wide open treeless area.”
Project Indigo’s application provides insight into how the open space could be used. The developers propose a dog park, swimming areas, walking trails and ball fields for a 39.3-acre nature park. A central park and pocket park, 20.9 acres, would be dedicated to playgrounds, docks, shaded areas, greenery and ball courts. The plan includes 7.6 acres of a linear green trail network.
Mibelli and Jones advocated for the developers to preserve open space in larger plots, rather than weaved throughout the site.
“I have a hard time with those areas not only so divided but tucked away, and I think the Southport residents will have an even harder time than I do,” Mibelli said.
The developers’ concept was to have residents live within nature. They argued that larger tracts of open space, rather than small broken-up segments, would seclude space to the outer edges of the property. They said this could affect the interconnectivity of Project Indigo’s neighborhoods and its potential connections to surrounding communities, including adjacent Cades Cove and Smithville Woods.
McKay Siegel of East West Partners said the intention was not to “nickel and dime” the green space or placing it in random spots to satisfy requirements. CEO of Bald Head Island Limited also promoted the plan.
“The amount of open space that we have will be the single largest amount of open space in all of Southport,” Paul said.
The committee identified Project Indigo’s overlap and interaction with the area’s wetlands. The property would include 65 acres of jurisdictional wetlands that the subdivision would have to accommodate. However, the property would include 14 acres of wetlands that could be incorporated into the open space.
The committee also talked about a coal ash area located close to the Indigo property, which Bald Head Limited owns. Paul called it a “low-impact site” that could be used for development, with the one exception of prohibiting any wells.
Mibelli suggested Project Indigo use it for building to save “less variable” environments for nature preservation.
Project designs at this point are preliminary and changes can be made based on the committee and public’s feedback. The next group to meet about the project will be the Traffic Review Sub-Committee on May 23 at 3 p.m. at Indian Trail Meeting Hall.
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