Saturday, June 15, 2024

Pender County residents, planning board show strong opposition to Wyndwater development revision

Board denies plan in a unanimous vote

The Wyndwater developer was denied his proposed changes to move the location of townhomes and expand the commercial space being proposed. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

PENDER COUNTY — An audience of neighboring residents to the Wyndwater community in Hampstead took a standing ovation Tuesday night when the Pender County Planning Board unanimously denied a revised master development plan. 

Asking for a modification for the 10th time, applicant Mike Pollak — on behalf of owner Signature Topsail — wanted to reduce about 30 acres, modify the location of 136 townhomes and expand commercial space to 68,800 square feet.

READ MORE: Hampstead development decreases size by 29 acres, expands commercial space

Nearly 20 community members from Topsail Greens — immediately adjacent to Wyndwater — spoke out in opposition. Many cited lack of sufficient stormwater plans by the developer, traffic concerns related to an already overly congested U.S. 17, preservation of wildlife and green space, and overall safety.

The revised plan would have constructed 116 townhomes on a portion of the old Topsail Greens golf course, directly abutting at least 40 existing homes on either side. The land Pollak wished to add townhomes and commercial use to is located north of Champion Drive and south of Topsail Greens Drive, straddling Topsail Plantation Drive.

“What happened with Wyndwater before didn’t affect where our homes are. What’s being proposed now, affects our homes and it’s time to look to you people,” 33-year resident Karna Godridge said “I know there are legal things to address, but sometimes what’s interpreted as legal isn’t right. And that’s what I’m asking you to consider: what is right.”

The Wyndwater community has been under the nose of the Pender County Planning Board since 2013, when it was first proposed as 185 acres of single-family residential homes and 143 acres of commercial space spanning 58,379 square feet. Since then, the development plan has undergone nearly a dozen revisions.

Much of Wyndwater is already built out (297 lots), one phase received final approval (52 lots), and another is under construction with 63 lots. The overall plan currently includes 529 units. 

The project has a density of roughly 3.5 units per acre, up 2.76 units per acre due to the removal of 29 acres. Pollak explained at the meeting he no longer owns the land and “traded” it for another tract to provide a second entrance to the development from Sloop Point Road.

Wyndwater is zoned for planned development (PD), which Pender County requires to include a mixed-use format. The majority of the 9.6 acres planned for commercial use is clustered at the intersection of U.S. 17 and Topsail Plantation Drive, and would include medical office and retail space with parking.

While Pender County planning staff recommended approval of the revisions, the planning board questioned the applicant from the start.

Board member Margaret Mosca grilled Pollak on his stormwater management plans, which she said were unclear.

“What are your proposed elevations?” she asked. “I’m concerned with the current elevation difference between what you’re going to develop and what Topsail Greens is right now. There’s already a water issue. Will fill be brought in?”

The developer’s engineer Garry Pape, president of GSP Consulting, PLLC, explained he had walked the property to locate current ditches, and at the appropriate time he would have a more concrete plan. 

Unsatisfied with the answer, Mosca and Pape debated stormwater management for roughly 20 minutes. At one point, Pape turned his back to the board as members were speaking.

“You’re going to figure it out later?” Mosca asked. “Is that what I am understanding? There needs to be something to show what’s going to be in place to help protect an already saturated area. It’s subject to water and then you’re going to build on it.”

Pollak said he was “100% confident” the future plans would meet stormwater criteria and design, as he has with the other sections of the neighborhood.

A bigger issue is Topsail Greens was built before more advanced stormwater management practices were required and Pollak’s townhomes would be situated directly near Topsail Green homes’ septic tanks and easements.

With no definitive answer on stormwater, the board opened it up to public comment where some spoke passionately — even angrily — about the prospect of more homes popping up next door.

“Everything I’m hearing is a conception — not a firm plan,” Topsail Plantation Drive resident Al Burfield said. “You’re being asked as a board to make a decision that once it’s made, five to 10 years from now, if it doesn’t work out, who has the responsibility? The developer’s going to be long gone.”

Many spoke about the flooding that already occurs near their homes. Some flashed pictures of flood waters after a hurricane. Others said current retention ponds fill to the brim during mere heavy rains, fearing the developer had plans for their removal.

“One retention pond is in my backyard, the other is 50 paces away. They kept my home from flooding during Florence,” Cardinal Drive resident Lindsey Oliver said. “I want to know: Does anyone care what will happen to me and my family, when we have another hurricane and we’re standing on our roof waving for help and all I hear is concepts?”

Oliver also mentioned her concerns for wildlife in the area, including turtles, birds and ducks. The area proposed for townhome construction is currently open space, which would destroy natural habitat. 

Traffic was also a hot topic, as the development is located near U.S. 17. where more than 40,000 cars already travel daily. According to the application, the entire development will generate an additional 5,917 trips each day.

“The latest building of houses has increased seven cars driving on Topsail Greens every five minutes,” resident Joy Stees said. “When I’ve written to the state about it, ‘Oh, well, we’re out of money and building a new bypass.’ The state doesn’t care either. I wish Pender County would.”

Homeowner Ann Bridges works in Wilmington near Mayfaire. At times she said she has been stuck in traffic upward of three hours to drive 17 miles, a trip that should normally be 30 minutes.

The proposed two-story buildings also would create obstructive views from neighbors living nearby, some expressed. Pollak reminded the audience when the planned development was initially approved, there was always the intention of future development to include townhomes.

Pollak can appeal the denial to the board of adjustment, which holds its next meeting July 21. 

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