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Monday, May 27, 2024

Community survey showing opposition to Project Indigo grows

No High Density Southport held a community meeting on Nov. 3 to present the results of a opinion survey on Project Indigo. (Brenna Flanagan/PCD).

SOUTHPORT — The unpopularity of Project Indigo, a 350-acre planned unit development that could have doubled the size of the seaside city of Southport, is no secret. And a group of concerned residents are continuing to vocalize their resistance to the development’s massive scope, and the negative impacts it may have on the city’s infrastructure and quality of life.

No High Density Southport is a grassroots group led by several city residents with experience in environmental safety, real estate and business. The group includes Downtown Southport Inc. board member Karen Rife, former mayoral candidate Rebecca Kelley, co-founder of Brunswick Environmental Action Team Peter Key, and others, all focused on curbing the scope and negative impacts of Project Indigo. ​​

Since developers Bald Head Island Limited and East West Partners submitted their project to the city’s planning department in March, the 1,500-unit development has drawn intense scrutiny. Doubts have risen from city leaders and outrage from many citizens over the high-density and potential bombardment of residents on the city’s aging infrastructure.

The partners withdrew their application from the board of aldermen on Sept. 9 to “incorporate desired amendments and changes to the applications.” The planning board had already denied a recommendation, with a similar condemnation expected from the board. 

Ahead of a closed session meeting between the developers and the board of aldermen on Nov. 8 — which state statute allows to preserve attorney-client privilege — residents have banded together into a formal opposition so as to make sure city leaders continue boxing out the development. 

At a community meeting Thursday night, the group shared results from a survey they released to Southport residents Oct. 3; it closed Oct. 31. 

“We just wanted to gauge the impact of the rezoning,” group leader Agnes McGeever said. “We wanted quantitative data; we wanted numbers.”

To accommodate the 1,500 units, Project Indigo would need to be rezoned from R-20 to a planned unit development. PUDs allow for a variety of densities in one development to accommodate condos, townhomes and duplexes along with single-family cottages and commercial space.  

The survey received 530 anonymous responses and 340 comments; Southport’s population is a little over 4,100 people. The results show 92% of respondents are against rezoning Project Indigo’s acreage to a PUD, which would allow for a range of housing densities along with the proposal’s 80,000 square feet of commercial space.

Comments from the No High Density Southport’s survey were displayed on the wall during the community meeting on Nov. 3. (Brenna Flanagan/PCD).

The results also showed overwhelming opposition to commercial development of the property, with 87% of respondents voting against. People also said Project Indigo would produce negative impacts on wildlife habitats (94%), pedestrian and bicycle safety (91%), the city’s charm and character (89%), infrastructure (94%), traffic (97%) and quality of life (93%). 

While the survey demonstrates the disdain for the original version of Project Indigo, respondents were more divided over how the project should move forward, if at all. When asked if they were for rezoning to only single-family and two-family residences on quarter-acre lots, 45% of respondents said yes, while 33% said no — the rest were unsure. 

Members of the No High Density Southport proposed a potential compromise — keep the land zoned R-20, the residential agriculture district allowing up to 500 single-family homes, and annex the reduced-density development into city limits. 

“What would be the worst best-case scenario? I think the answer to that is R-20,” Kelley said in response to an audience question on Thursday. 

No High Density Southport claims the potential infusion of thousands of people would strain Southport beyond what it can stand, just so the developers could turn a greater profit. 

“We don’t think our quality of life and our roads and everything everybody has moved here for is worth that,” Rife said during the meeting.

The group shared a financial analysis it put together to show how an R-20 version of Project Indigo with only 627 units would impact the development’s profit output. The group used the same base calculations from the financial analysis completed by outside companies in July, which found the development would generate $1.4 million net benefit to the city’s general fund.

No High Density Southport’s analysis showed the profit would decrease by $218,000. The members claimed the hit would remain minimal, even with less units, under the assumption the developers would instead build higher-value homes.  

“If you go R-20, you’re going to build those higher value houses, you’re not going to build a one-bedroom,” McGeever said during the meeting.

Residents seemed more comfortable with the R-20 idea. 

“I can live with R-20,” Janine Browning said. “What I can’t live with is doubling the size of Southport and doing nothing about the infrastructure.” 

One of NHDS’s leaders, Karen Rife, pointed out the strain on the city’s sewer system, limited parking and public transportation, hurricane recovery efforts and schools. 

The city is undergoing pursuit of American Rescue Plan grants to pay for an overhaul of its 100-year-old sewer system, along with an expansion of its wastewater treatment plant. Exacerbating flooding concerns that coincide with storms  like Hurricane Ian, Project Indigo’s proposed impervious surface — 75% of the developable land — would increase runoff into nearby areas, according to Key, a NHDS leader who spoke to the project’s environmental impacts.

Key said the city could impose a consent decree on Project Indigo, similar to the order on Chemours, to mitigate environmental damage to the city’s land.

Two Southport board of aldermen members were in attendance at the Thursday meeting and expressed their support for the group’s efforts to amplify the citizen voice. 

Alderman Lowe Davis expressed her appreciation for the name of the group and encouraged members to come to every meeting. 

“Please keep this as your focus — low density,” Davis said during the meeting. “Everything else depends on the density, all the other issues are subordinate to that.”

Alderman Richard Alt told Port City Daily the city’s elected leaders should be the conduit of the people.

“To my knowledge out of hundreds of speakers only three have spoken in favor of high density,” he said. “My thought is that unless the topic has some high moral aspect to it, and for some reason the people are supporting the immoral issue, as an example slavery, then the elected official should go with the majority of the population. A development is not a moral issue. It is a quality-of-life issue.”

NHDS’s push for a lower-density project may hint at the group’s overall mission. Its name, No High Density Southport, is not Project Indigo specific, although the group claims defeating the detested development is its priority. 

“We’re not sure where we are going to go next as a group,” McGeever said on Thursday. “We want to have a success here first.” 

One comment submitted through the survey spoke to future concerns: 

“Project Indigo does not fit the definition of moderate growth, nor does the city seem to have a plan to handle any growth. A moratorium on further large developments to address existing infrastructure issues is paramount before any additional growth.”

However, Indigo Phase I resident Judy Brown said she worried about only focusing on higher-end single-family homes. 

“If they are going to build something, I think they need to put some affordable housing,” Brown said. “Housing that young families could use, not million dollar houses that retirees are going to come down and buy.”

Yet, to submit their new application, Bald Head Island Limited and East West Partners plan to incorporate feedback in the new and improved Project Indigo. It’s not clear what aspects, though. According to Alderman Alt, Southport’s board of aldermen has not held an official meeting with the developers to discuss the project’s future; the Nov. 8 meeting will be the first since the partners’ withdrawal. 

A request for information sent to Limited’s CEO Chad Paul did not receive a response. 


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at 

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