Friday, August 19, 2022

Residents urge Carolinian Inn developers to adopt alternative plans

Homeowners from Forest Hills, Beaumont, Mercer and Brookwood neighborhoods gather at a community meeting on Wednesday with Paramount Engineering to provide feedback on a potential rezoning and development of The Carolinian Inn and surrounding property. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan).

WILMINGTON — Designers couldn’t convince local residents to accept their rezoning of The Carolinian Inn property at Wednesday’s community meeting; however, neighbors said they are not opposed to another solution.

After last week’s neighborhood meeting, homeowners from Forest Hills, Beaumont, Mercer and Brookwood neighborhoods geared up to fight the rezoning of the Market Street property. The proposed move to higher-density zoning (MD-17) than the neighborhoods in surrounding neighborhoods (R-15) is off the table for them. 

The rezoning would allow 148 units to be built on the property; the developers are proposing to meet that number with 48 townhomes and a 100-unit apartment building. 

In an effort to compromise, last night’s attendees offered some solutions. 

Dan Dawson, who has emerged as the community’s de facto leader, suggested the developers keep the apartment in place of the inn. He said the townhome area behind it should be rezoned to R-7, medium-density single-dwelling residential, even if the city’s Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan suggests a higher density. 

“Just because the comprehensive plan says it doesn’t mean the citizens have no limit to this encroachment,” Dawson said. 

R-7 zonings allow up to six single-family units per acre, which means 54 could be built on the Carolinian Inn property.  

The city’s land use code says developments in R-7 are meant to “accommodate compact, walkable neighborhoods proximate and connected to urban services and compatible uses.”

An MD-17 zoning would be a significant increase — it almost triples an R-7 allowance. 

The city suggests using MD-17 zonings “to provide a mix of densities and housing forms in a compact urban environment through redevelopment, infill on relatively small sites, and within mixed-use areas.”

Alison Engebretson, the project’s landscape architect and main speaker at Wednesday’s meeting, said the city has designated the area as ripe for an MD-17 development. 

Developers Orange Capital Advisors, who did not attend the meeting, technically do not have to rezone the property at all to add housing, Engebretson said. Instead, she explained they could rework their vision under the current zoning, which permits commercial district mixed-use, and still include housing.

CDMU zonings are intended to “provide housing for persons of all income levels, mix housing and compatible nonresidential uses, help reduce traffic congestion, and incentivize creative site design,” according to the land use code. 

Orange Capital did not want to do that, according to Engerbreton, forgoing the commercial business requirement for a pure residential area. 

Residents said they thought working within the current zoning would be a good way to limit the scale of the project. Not only would the developers be required to provide commercial amenities to the public, but they would be limited to 78 housing units. Multi-family dwellings and townhomes would be allowed but no single-family homes.

Engebretson said she appreciated the “reasonable request.”

Attendees also used the meeting as an opportunity to get answers on their most pressing concerns: stormwater drainage, traffic flow and home privacy. 

Runoff from the property and surrounding areas has one drainage point. The proposed design includes a stormwater pond at the back of the development to collect water, but residents are unconvinced the pond will do the job. 

Residents on Forest Hills Drive, Wayne Drive, and Renovah Circle abut a North Carolina flood zone due to their proximity to Burnt Mill Creek. Citing flooded streets when it rains, homeowners claim paving the Carolinian Inn property with cement will make flooding worse. 

Paramounte Engineering designers said they were studying stormwater needs and making sure the property’s pond would hold enough water.

On traffic, Engebretson said a study was underway but would not be completed before the developers submitted the rezoning application. Residents asked if they could see the study before any movement forward was made. Engebretson responded saying the developers didn’t have to do the study at all — rather, they wanted to. 

When residents claimed there would not be enough parking for the development’s tenants, Engebretson assured everyone the companies were following city ordinances on parking requirements. 

For one-bedroom units, one and a half parking spaces must be made available; two-bedrooms must make two available. The proposed plan includes 173 parking spaces for the apartment, but no number is given for the townhomes. 

Still, homeowners are convinced the development will have an overflow of vehicles obstructing nearby streets.

Most residents preferred replacing The Carolinian Inn with an apartment building — the hotel has faced issues of prostitution, assaults, robberies, and rampant drug use. Yet, some were concerned the three-to-four-story building would compromise their privacy and cause disturbances with light pollution. 

The designers plan to use trees, fences and other vegetation as buffers between the properties. Residents called for more, though; Engebretson said created above what was required. 

As the meeting hit the hour mark, attendees began to question if their input would be seriously considered. Engebretson assured them it would be. 

“I have always changed things based on community feedback,” she said. 

Despite the suggestions for an alternative, developers seem to be moving forward with the current plan. They will host another community meeting on June 15 ahead of their planned zoning submission date of June 20.


Reach out to Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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