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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

NCDOT wants to block apartments next to CF bridge with land buy

State wants to buy property yet still doesn't have funding for the bridge replacement

NCDOT plans to purchase 7.4 acres currently under development review to secure needed land for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement. (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON — A proposed development, adjacent to the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, is in jeopardy now that a state agency wants to buy the land.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is seeking to preserve three parcels on Surry Street, owned by Riverman LLC, purchased in 2012 for $1.15 million. Its need arises from the impending replacement of the 53-year-old bridge, nearing its end of lifespan — a hot discussion item among local and state officials over the last decade, though, there isn’t money allocated for it yet.

READ MORE: ‘Got to get moving’: Officials can’t agree on path forward for CF Memorial Bridge replacement

“Based on the feasibility study we did a few years ago, we identified the only place the bridge can be replaced is to the south of the existing bridge,” NCDOT Division 3 Division Engineer Chad Kimes told Port City Daily.

When the Wilmington Planning Commission approved a rezoning request submitted by Cape Fear Development Partners for 7.4 acres of land at 610, 712 and 732 Surry Street, it garnered NCDOT’s attention.

The submitted proposal calls for the construction of more than 200 apartments and a luxury restaurant with a rooftop bar. The project, Proximity at Dram Tree, still requires city council approval.

On Dec. 15, NCDOT’s Advance Acquisition Review Committee approved a request by Kimes for a protective acquisition so the apartment complex couldn’t move forward and hamper the bridge replacement project.

NCDOT has leeway for property purchases due to the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. The funding and authorization bill, under the federal highway administration, allows NCDOT to buy land if there is the potential for adverse impact.

The approval noted NCDOT has proven a hardship would be created if the property were to be developed.

“If the bridge project were to happen 10 years from now and the development is there, at that point, it may cause the project to not have enough funding to move forward,” Kimes said.

NCDOT doesn’t have a plan in place to cover costs for new construction currently. The bridge replacement did not score high enough in the department’s scientific prioritization metrics for funding through the 10-year State Transportation Improvement Program.

Replacing the bridge could cost anywhere from $300 million to more than $900 million. 

NCDOT identified in October $2 million from the State Highway Bridge Fund to cover the cost of traffic and revenue studies, which started last month. It would examine the impacts on a potential toll and to where vehicles would be diverted.

It also kickstarted a two-year planning document process, to begin later this month.

Once studies are completed by October this year, it will help the state identify other potential bridge-funding opportunities, including federal grants.

“This will provide critical information moving into the prioritization round in the fall,” Kimes said.

NCDOT will open the window for project submission to the next round of STIP prioritization in July through September. From October 2023 through March 2024, the scoring will be reviewed.

Kimes said a grant would help offset costs and could boost the project’s score. 

“That’s why we’re trying to uncover every single stone out there to figure out how to fund it. We will get this figured out,” he said. “Preserving the land is really step one.”

Kimes confirmed this is the only parcel in NCDOT’s sights at this time; however, if other nearby tracts begin the rezoning or development process, the department would consider purchasing those as well.

Buying land through the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act works in favor of landowners, too, according to Kimes. He pointed to a Brunswick County case. Currently, a property owner is unable to sell land based on a future interchange improvement slated for the area, therefore NCDOT was able to buy it at his request.

“It doesn’t replace the Map Act,” Kimes clarified. “Just another way to deal with hardships down the road.”

The state no longer has the option of obtaining land through the Map Act, a law that allowed the state to restrict development in corridors reserved for future transportation projects. It was deemed unconstitutional by the state supreme court in 2016.

NCDOT still has to follow all state and federal guidelines for right-of-way acquisitions, including getting the property value appraised; most require at least two.

Part of the appraisal process considers what the developer has already spent in preparation of building out the site.

“We know efforts have been put into it,” Kimes said.

The North Carolina Board of Transportation will vote to approve funds for the appraisal process during its Jan. 19 meeting in Raleigh. If approved, NCDOT can move forward with negotiating with the landowner.

Riverman LLC can accept the offer, present a counteroffer or refuse to settle. A last-ditch effort would be for NCDOT to enter a legal condemnation process for acquiring the land.

Cape Fear Development Partners did not respond to a request for comment.

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