Friday, December 2, 2022

Rezoning on Blue Clay Road to increase residential options in northern New Hanover

Nearly 25 acres on Blue Clay Road was approved by the New Hanover County planning board for rezoning from planned development to residential multi-family. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A portion of a massive tract of land just south of the I-140 and Blue Clay Road intersection could soon be developed. In a 4-1 vote, the New Hanover County Planning Board approved Thursday a rezoning to make way for future multi-family units.

The more than 800-acre land is owned by multiple parties, including Raiford Trask, with company Ammo Dump/Lake +9. The land has been zoned under the planned development (PD) zoning since 2006, when the property was designated for Blue Clay Farms but remained vacant and designated for agriculture use.

Board member Clark Hipp was the sole dissenting vote. He had concerns about increased traffic and taking away from the agricultural use of the land.

“Through the application and staff comment, [the subject site] was referred to as undeveloped, underutilized, vacant land,” Hipp said Thursday. “So, it’s not vacant land; it’s producing crops. One of the goals of the planning document mentioned agriculture. We need to provide food for our community.”

In the county’s unified development ordinance, a PD zone encourages “innovative, integrated and efficient land planning and site design.” The designation also allows for a mix of land uses focused on natural preservation. 

Applicant Mike Brown with Cape Fear Four, on behalf of the property owners, is seeking a rezoning of two parcels, totaling 23.65 acres at 3500 Blue Clay Road, to residential multi-family low-density. The northern part of the county is one of the last remaining sections that has large tracts of undeveloped land.

The area currently lacks multi-family-unit offerings, and the requested rezoning would increase the diversity of housing options, according to the applicant.

While an exact breakdown of residential offerings has not yet been presented, the new rezoning would allow for 237 units — 178 more than currently allowed in the PD district. Residential multi-family zoning allows for 10 units per acre, up from 2.5 units per acre in the PD zoning.

Four of the five planning board members voted for the straight rezoning, while members Jeffrey Petroff and Colin Tarrant noted, an attached site plan would be preferred.

Though Tarrant said a proposal is more beneficial when there is opposition to a project, which this did not have publicly. No one submitted comments, showed up to speak or attended a community input meeting Sept. 29.

Member Pete Avery said, on the other hand, he supports straight rezonings.

“In most cases, we over analyze, overthink — sometimes projects get too deep in the weeds,” he said. “In this case, one is not needed and it’s also consistent with the land use plan, meets some of the policy guidelines and already has restrictions in place.”

Chair Donna Girardot said the area is not ideal for single-family homes but could be suitable for multi-family development, as proposed.

“It makes sense to me and the fact that we need more affordable, lower-cost housing and that’s where multi-family comes in in this county,” she said, and clarified she meant the units would be cheaper than the average $400,000 home for purchase locally.

With undeveloped land to the south and west, with I-140 to the north, a 130,000-square-foot planned Blue Clay Industrial Manufacturing Park is in the works for less than 1 mile away. The 11-building site will be constructed in phases over 10 years but is projected to draw in more than 2,000 vehicles daily to the site once complete.

A traffic impact analysis is not required for a straight rezoning at 3500 Blue Clay Road, but if the developer returns with a proposed site plan it will need to produce one. The applicant estimates the rezoning would generate 163 more peak morning trips and 224 additional trips in the afternoon hours. Blue Clay Road averages 5,400 daily trips already but “has capacity” available to handle more.

The volume averages for Blue Clay Road are from 2019, according to the WMPO, and Hipp pointed out to fellow board members, “a lot has happened since then.”

“This could be the start of a fairly significant increase in traffic,” he added.

The new multi-family units would add to recently built or under construction neighborhoods, including Rachel’s Place — 154 single-family lots at 3013 and 3079 Blue Clay Road — Blue Clay Townes, 50 townhomes just south of Rachel’s Place, and The Covenant I and II — 68-unit attached housing development on 9.6 acres at 3100 Blue Clay Road, approved by commissioners in May.

Of the almost 400 housing units in the works among the five developments, 148 have been built with 246 still left to construct.

A half-clover intersection at I-140 and Blue Clay Road is slated in North Carolina Department of Transportation’s plans but is not currently funded. The project is listed in the local transportation planning agencies future goals, meaning it could be eligible for federal funding. 

Another project in the works is to widen Castle Hayne Road from I-140 to Division Drive, which would add a center turn lane or median to sections of the road. Construction is scheduled to begin after 2029.

The proposed improvements are one of the main reasons New Hanover County planning staff is recommending approval of the rezoning.

If approved by commissioners, the 23.65-acre area would be void from the master development plan for Blue Clay Farms, which has approved commercial, office, and residential uses across from 3500 Blue Clay Road site. The applicant notes the surrounding land uses have changed progressively over the last decade to include a mix of residential uses.

“The plans are no longer valid with the creation of the 2016 Comprehensive Plan, as density limit was in place to reduce cross-contamination of septic system wells,” according to the proposal submitted to the planning board on Sept. 1

The county is working with Cape Fear Public Utility Authority to establish utility connections along Blue Clay Road to encourage infill development. The sewer lines were added by CFPUA about five years ago along the east of Blue Clay Road and will support any future development. Water access is still in the works.

The county and CFPUA entered into an interlocal agreement Sept. 19 to extend water and sewer access to areas in the northern part of the county. The exact location of the new line has yet to be determined and full build out is not expected until 2026, according to county officials.

According to a county commissioners’ report from April, 18% of the county’s land mass remains undeveloped, leaving 24,162 acres open. Of that, only around 18,000 acres have unrestricted use, meaning not in a flood zone or considered wetlands. A little over 1,000 acres remains unused along Blue Clay Road, with a variety of property owners including Ammo Dump/Lake +9, LLC, Swartville LLC and Family Forestry Farming and Fun LLC.

The planning board’s recommended approval will now go before county commissioners for the final say.

Owned by the Trask Family, a portion of nearly 800 acres in northern New Hanover could soon become townhomes. (Courtesy/NHC)

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