PENDER COUNTY — A portion of vacant land equal to roughly 50 football fields could soon be converted into a combined business and industrial zone in Rocky Point Township.
The Pender County Planning Board approved Tuesday a rezoning of 70 acres between U.S. 117 and I-40, along US 17. Applicant Ryan Krall, of Greenville, S.C., on behalf of Rocky Point Interchange, asked to update the wooded area from rural agriculture and general industrial to general business and an expanded industrial zone.
Roughly 11 acres directly along the highway was changed to general business, leading the way for retail, restaurants, and other commercial activity. The other 46 acres will be zoned general industrial, allowing for manufacturing uses.
“The request is partly due to the significant portion of current industrial areas being wetlands,” county planner Chris Hatcher said at the meeting. “The applicant is trying to expand the general industrial areas to better utilize that zoning designation, but buffering the general business area along the highway.”
This would essentially block any larger manufacturing or warehouse buildings from the main road with commercial services at the front part of the property.
Hatcher said it was a “better fit” for the character and land uses of adjacent properties: business to the north, industrial to the east and south, and business and residential to the west.
The zoning designation change takes away any chance of future housing development, allowed in the rural agricultural zone. The only residential uses would be second-story dwellings and cottage occupations, with a special use permit.
A few neighbors living in the vicinity expressed concerns over development impeding their properties.
Residents Tom Greer and Robert Pearsall were worried where water will go when additional pervious surface is created.
“We understand progress cannot be held back, but we’ve lived here 42 years,” Greer said. “This is our backyard.”
Applicant Krall explained his intention is to create a stormwater plan that would not worsen flooding but try to improve issues the area might experience. As the developer has to follow state and federal guidelines, the goal would be to maintain runoff. Krall explained his plan would not back-up water onto other sites but rather redirect it for the area as a whole. An exact stormwater plan was not presented.
Greer asked if the neighboring residents would have a say in the type of buffer installed, as options vary in plantings, density and width. County senior planner Justin Brantley said no.
Since Krall is asking for a straight rezoning, as long as his future building is a permissible use, he does not have to bring his plans back to the planning board.
Nearby resident Amy Newberry Smith asked whether community members would be allowed to give input on what’s constructed. Brantley explained since it’s a “by-right” development, they would not.
“When a property is zoned a certain way, there are certain uses they do not need permission to do but they do have to go through a site plan process,” he explained. “You might not be able to provide input but would be notified within a month of the application on what to expect.”
She also inquired about a timeline, but the property owner does not have to follow one. “It may never be developed,” Brantley said.
Krall told the board the intention is to begin construction next year, following the permitting process.
Plans for the industrial portion of the land would create up to 50 jobs, though he declined to comment further on what that would entail. He confirmed it would not be heavy manufacturing.
“We’re OK to say our intended use is a wholesale dealer-to-dealer auto auction facility,” Krall told the board. “Not a whole lot of traffic, minimal noise — not a giant monstrosity, a pretty low-profile building.”
The goal would be to build in the center of the lot and utilize the existing wooded forest as an additional buffer zone. He also confirmed the business side could entail retail shops and maybe some restaurants.
As noted by the application, currently 7,000 vehicles travel U.S. 117, between U.S. 17 and Carr Avenue; yet the roadway has a capacity of more than 20,000.
County staff recommended approval of the rezoning, as the change would be in line with its comprehensive future land use plan.
Board vice chair Damien Buchanan was the first to speak up in support.
“There will be more needs for general business and retail to support growth,” he said, noting Rocky Point is a flourishing area.
Buchanan also pointed out its “unique location” to a major interstate hub would be an easy access point for trucks, keeping them off other highways and residential roads.
Commercial uses are already allowed within the rural agriculture zoning, board member Margaret Mosca iterated.
“This is not taking a piece of land that could never be developed,” she said. “It’s going from a type of commercial to expanding more categories of commercial.”
The planning board’s unanimous recommended approval will go before the board of commissioners Dec. 5 for the final say.
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