WILMINGTON — A 4-acre project off Military Cutoff Road with a thorny history was approved 5-1 by the Wilmington Planning Commission Wednesday after a 12-minute litany of protests from a neighborhood spokesperson.
Speaking on behalf of residents at Lucia Point, a Military Cutoff neighborhood north of the property, was Caicos Court resident Matt Salerno.
“Surely the financial reasons that the developer and applicant have to rezone this land cannot outweigh the potential impacts — negative impacts — it will have on the immediate residents in our neighborhood,” Salerno said in his comments.
Trask Land Company, represented by Raiford Trask III at the meeting, is taking on the 2.76-acre Westfall North development at 701 Military Cutoff Rd., across the street from Mayfaire Town Center. Its original proposal was for 10,000 square feet of offices and 5,000 square feet for retail space and a restaurant. After its initial rezoning request to the city, Trask decided to abandon the latter two uses, modifying its request for two double-story office buildings totaling 21,200 square feet.
Port City Daily reached out to Trask Land for inquiring why they amended the development plans but did not hear back by press.
The land is currently zoned for moderate density residential use, or R-15. Trask wants to rezone to office and institutional use conditional district, which allows the city to include certain parameters beyond O&I’s general standards.
Complicating the project plans, though, is the presence of lead in the soil.
The parcel up for rezoning, the “buildable parcel,” is part of a parent tract, owned by Trask, that stretches from Military Cutoff to Old Maccumber Station Road.
Part of the buildable parcel used to be the Wilmington Gun Club, which operated a firing range in the 1980s used by the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department.
“Back in the day, in a whole entirely different world, we leased it to the sheriff’s department on a handshake for, I think, like five bucks a year,” Trask said in the meeting.
The parent property, referred to as the Old Maccumber Dump Tract, includes wetlands under conservation easement. The land next to the parent parcel, also owned by Trask, is called “Ammo Dump Lake” in county property records.
The lead contamination has impacted all three sections, including Howe Creek that runs through the properties.
The buildable parcel completed a North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality remediation plan in 2013, but it did not remove all the contamination. Therefore, it was still under land use restrictions.
In 2019, an NCDEQ report cited 270 tons of hazardous lead have impacted the former gun range’s soil and 8 acres of wetlands (the latter is not on buildable land).
NCDEQ approved a plan in February 2020 to do a full cleanup of the site. At the meeting, Trask said $1 million has been spent so far in the process.
“My 84-year-old father said, ‘Son, I want that mess cleaned up,’” Trask said. “We have a really good plan approved by the state, and a really good project that enables us to do this and we can get the lead out.”
The plan includes tree removal in order to extract the contaminated soil. After that phase is completed, the property will go through a one-year monitoring period before construction can begin.
Removing trees to put in a commercial building does not sit well with the residents of Lucia Point, who would be surrounded to the north and south with commercial development.
Salerno remarked most of the residents would prefer the land to be developed under its R-15 zoning rather than for commercial use.
“It’s our view that any commercial categorization on this piece of property is significantly detrimental to the existence and the quality of life in Lucia,” Salerno told commissioners in a 12-minute speech.
Parking and traffic were among his concerns. Trask is required to offer 34 spaces but include 57 plus four4 accessible spaces in its plan. Drivers would access the site vias one street off Military Cutoff. While a traffic impact analysis was not required for the development, the plans indicate an average of 300 cars would make weekday trips to the office buildings, while the count is only 75 for residential use.
Military Cutoff Road currently sees 32,000 cars a day on average, according to the application documents.
Another problem with the plans are the razing of trees, which currently that provide a vegetative barrier between Lucia Point and the property. Trask explained a privacy fence will be erected at the property line during construction and trees will be replanted when it’s finished.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the lead is near that property line,” Trask said to commissioners. “There’s one area where we will have to totally take out all the trees. It’s a fairly short area. We understand that’s not ideal for that homeowner.”
Tree removal adds to stormwater concerns expressed by Salerno and Commissioner Jack Pollock.The development plan would create 51,425 square feet of impervious area, around 17% of the site. According to the development’s engineer, the storm water would have to be treated for contamination before being released into Howe Creek.
“In reality, all of that impervious surface sits right behind five or six residential houses and we have significant concerns around water runoff and the impacts on our property,” Salerna said.
Planning staff explained tree removal and stormwater permits would be determined based on the technical review committee rulings.
“So any one of those items could be a red light and stop until appropriately addressed to get through the committee,” Pollock said.
Salerno claimed the development was not consistent with the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan, which guides sustainable and responsible land use in the city.
“Most importantly to our opposition to this is to protect the character of single family neighborhoods,” Salerno said to the commission.
In the end, the commission agreed the development was a good use of the land and in line with the large amount of commercial development along Military Cutoff Road already. Al Sharp was the only commissioner to dissent.
“I do sympathize with the neighbors that they do not wish to have a commercial development, but it’s on a major artery, Military Cutoff,” Commissioner Bruce Bowman said. “You can pick things out of the comprehensive plan to support anything.”
The development will move on to a legislative hearing following a TRC review.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org