WILMINGTON — A controversial development on Market Street faces a significant burden after the Wilmington Planning Commission denied its conditional rezoning request in a 4-2 vote Wednesday.
The 9-acre development proposes a four-story apartment building with 112 units and 36 townhome units behind the building, a small reallocation of units from the original submittal of 100 apartments and 48 townhomes. Developers requested the rezoning from O&I (office and institutional) and R-15 (low density single-family residential) zonings to MD-17 (high-density multi-family residential).
The site, situated between Wayne Drive and 29th Street, has not been accepted by nearby neighbors; residents hired an attorney to fight the development.
Commissioners did not seem keen on the project, proposed by Orange Capital Advisors and Paramounte Engineering, during Wednesday’s discussion.
Commissioner Ron Woodruff flagged a change in the developers’ plans; the proposal had been updated to include access points onto Wayne Drive and 29th street, not originally suggested.
Paramounte Engineering representative Allison Engelbretson explained those changes were necessary.
“It was a city directive to make those connections,” Engelbretson said. “They recommended we do 29th Street for better connectivity. Wayne Drive was a strong recommendation and would not receive staff approval if it moved forward without that connection.”
Woodruff said in response:, “So you abandoned the community for the staff’s recommendation?”
Engelbretson replied “yes,” but explained the move would better mitigate the impact of the development’s traffic. According to the application, the development will produce nearly 8,000 more average weekday trips.
Commissioners were not convinced the amendment would absolve congestion, fearing more cars would funnel into nearby neighboring communities, such as Forest Hills, to avoid Market Street. Commissioner Jack Pollock expressed discomfort with the conclusions without a traffic impact analysis, not required for this project.
Pollock and Woodruff also questioned how the development’s density and aesthetics would integrate into the neighborhood.
“That four-story building is not compatible with anything around it,” Woodruff said.
His claim was rebuffed by Engelbretson, who noted the nearby Forest Hills Lofts were the same height as the proposed 56-foot apartment building.
Developers hadn’t presented the conceptual design until Wednesday’s meeting. Engebretson noted the designs and elevations were not unusual to the area, identifying nearby townhomes and Forest Hills Apartments as examples.
“I know what the homes look like on Wayne and Stradleigh and others, there is nothing in the packet to show me what these homes will look like,” Pollock said.
Engelbretson also elaborated on the high-density zoning.
“MD-17 allows us to cluster density, with the apartments in the front [facing Market Street] and townhomes in the back,” Engelbretson said.
The proposed housing would replace the Carolinian Inn, in operation since 195. It has attracted police attention throughout the years. In 2017, the city filed legal action against the hotel for criminal activity, noting prostitution, assaults, robberies and rampant drug use were evident at the hotel.
Representing the developers, attorney Amy Schaefer used the property’s degrading conditions in her presentation to commissioners. She claimed, according to Wilmington Police Department reocords, there have been eight drug overdose calls — one fatal — four other drug violations, three breaking-and-entering charges, multiple assaults (one on a law enforcement officer and one with deadly weapon), one fugitive arrest warrant and one human trafficking charge.
“So this is ongoing,” Schaefer said.
Many residents in nearby neighborhoods — Beaumont, Forest Hills, Brookwood and Mercer — were in favor of ousting the Carolinian Inn. They did not approve of a high-density development moving into the single-family communities.
In June, over 100 neighbors attended a community meeting hosted by developers. Their grievance list was long: an aging stormwater system, traffic congestion, decreased property values, child safety, tree preservation and more.
The homeowners vowed to mobilize to oppose the development. On Wednesday, audience numbers frequently vocalized their dissent during commission discussion, but allocated a spokesperson during the public hearing. Zero people spoke in favor.
Gary Shipman, the attorney hired by community residents, represented the opposition.
“This proposal could not be a further departure from the LDC [Land Development Code],” Shipman said. “It doesn’t promote safety; it doesn’t promote environmental sensitivity; it places the overwhelming burden on streets that are already overburdened and a stormwater system that is already overburdened. The process is not nearly done.”
“I’m concerned about just about every aspect of this,” Woodruff said. “Obviously the neighborhood is very concerned.”
Commissioner Winslow Goins remarked that under the current O&I and R-15 zonings, the developers could cut down all the trees and put in a 96-foot building to make room for a development.
“I don’t think it’s a perfect plan, but compared to what could be done, it’s a good balance,” he said.
Vice Chair John Lennon agreed the development was a less intrusive alternative and rejected claims the developer did not do its due diligence.
Still, the concerned commissioners won out with Pollock, Woodruff, Bruce Bowman and Al Sharp voting against a recommendation. However, the city council — given the final say — could still vote to approve the rezoning request at an upcoming meeting.
Reach out to Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.