Thursday, March 30, 2023

182 units, 100K square feet: BHI unveils first draft of commercial development master plan

Committee asks for another extension to building moratorium

The three island locales included in the commercial master plan, plus identified roads and the path of the potential greenway.

BALD HEAD ISLAND —  A glimpse into a potential vision of Bald Head Island was revealed last week as the expiration date on a development moratorium nips at the village’s heels.

The village’s draft commercial area master plan, put together by Wilmington planning consultant ColeJenest & Stone, was unveiled Feb. 16 after a three-months process. The plan provides a blueprint for future development opportunities in the village that support its small-town, minimal-impact atmosphere. 

READ MORE: Lawsuit shows Bald Head Island refused offer to buy ferry last fall

In June 2022, the village council implemented a two-month moratorium on commercial building to establish a framework for future development and codify those goals into the village’s ordinances. In September, the council extended it to March 17, the date of its next meeting. 

The committee created to oversee the master plan is now requesting another extension, this time for nine months. It will give council time to align its ordinances with the master plan. 

Consultant Brian Jenest presented the master plan to the committee on Feb. 16, showing what’s possible under the village’s current land code. 

“We’ve been here 40 years, this is another 40 years,” Jenest said about the master plan. 

Bald Head Limited, on behalf of the island’s founder George Mitchell, created an island-wide plan for build out and established certain zones for residential and commercial development.  According to councilmember Scott Gardner, around 1,300 homes have been built and the current commercial activity has been developed to meet that capacity.  There are also up to 750 residential lots which have been sold but not developed. 

“We want to maintain the look and feel of the island while maintaining a balance between current and future homeowners and the additional commercial development to meet their collective needs,” Gardner said to Port City Daily. 

According to the master plan’s survey results, collected from 224 of the island’s roughly 269 full-time residents, major priorities include landscaping, including the preservation of trees and natural land, along with more plazas, public areas and food options. One comment for the mid-island zone was more affordable housing for island workers. 

Many of the comments were aimed at preserving the character of the island — keeping lower height restrictions, limiting hotel units, no chain restaurants. Master plan committee chair Kevin Arata noted similarities in survey responses that went into the work plan, created in 2017, and the survey opened for the master plan in November 2022. 

“One of the resounding themes of the Vision 2025 plan was that of ‘living  in harmony with nature’ – a theme that we feel should be applicable not only to residential development, but commercial development as well, and this too is reflected in our recommendations,” Arata read in his statement. 

The master plan outlines future possibilities for three locations on the island. 

The first is the marina and historic locale, which is where the Bald Head Island ferry deposits. According to public feedback, citizens want better modality between trams and golf carts, plus more pedestrian connectivity. 

The master plan for the marina/historic area.

“As the island continues to grow, that area is getting tighter and tighter, and we maybe need to look at those conflicts” Jenest said. “The goal is long-term to begin to separate people from the cars.”

The plan proposes expanded parking and a two-story “golf cart barn” where people can access rentals after exiting the ferry. It also includes a welcome center, a requested item by the public. The plan incorporates a blueway/greenway that is part of the village’s Vision 25 work plan; it would span from the municipal section of the village to the east beach. 

Proposed development includes seven mixed-use buildings with commercial ventures on the bottom; two have upper floors (up to three are allowed) reserved for offices, five for residences. Overall, retail space calculations reach 23,000 square feet with accommodations for 52 residential units ranging from 900 to 3,500 square feet. 

Jenest also presented the option for cottages along the west beach. Per citizen feedback, a park area is also planned, fit with an amphitheater, playground and boardwalk. 

The next locale tackled was the mid-island cluster, where the island’s maritime market and hardware store is located. The residents’ major concerns, according to Jenest, was again pedestrian accessibility, but also the area’s lack of a unified architectural theme. There are no parking guidelines either. 

“We really need to get a handle on that,” Jenest said in the meeting. 

The master plan for the mid-island portion of the island.

This blueprint includes over 20 mixed-use buildings, mostly arranged facing an interior pedestrian walkway. Jenest added the buildings are strategically located “fitting into the trees” to reduce the need for removal. The same attention is afforded to parking; the majority of spaces are placed behind the building to enhance the aesthetic continuity of the building.  

In total, this area hosts 112 residential units and over 80,000 square feet dedicated to commercial, retail or service use. 

The third portion is located at the east beach. Most requested elements are parking for beach access, public restrooms and low-impact development. Again, various mixed-use buildings are included, totalling 18 residential units around 3,600 square feet each and 11,600 square feet of commercial space. These buildings would be located off the beach behind a shear zone shielding the plaza from coastal view. 

This area is also set to include public restrooms integrated into one of the mixed-use buildings, as well as 50 street parking spaces. 

The east beach portion of the master plan.

After the presentation, Arata read a statement representing the committee’s thoughts. 

“We believe it is important to take a step back and carefully consider the impact of rapid development on our island,” he read. “The growth and change on Bald Head Island have been rapid and constant, and while this has brought about many positive benefits, it has also put a strain on our infrastructure, resources, and community cohesion.” 

The committee will continue to tweak the master plan before it submits a formal proposal to council, but it has drafted recommendations based off the process already. One of the requests is a technical review committee at the village level to adopt a set of universal design guidelines and development requirements; also, the committee said to consider a parks and recreation department. 

Another request is for council to create a conditional zoning in its land code to allow for case-by-case rulings on commercial developments. 

The committee also suggests a proactive approach to development, such as establishing the site of the village’s welcome center before other developers snatch land up. It also desires island-wide public restrooms, a highly-requested item, be built and maintained by the village, rather than being tied to commercial development. Another request to consider obtaining easements for the greenway.

One of the only master plan components the committee questioned was the need for more retail space at the marina, citing more congestion to the ferry dropoff area. 

The committee is advocating for another nine months of the moratorium for the village to codify the master plan and implement suggestions from the committee. The village council may do so as long as there is a legitimate public interest.


The committee is accepting virtual feedback on the master plan through Friday, Feb. 24. The next council meeting will take place on March 17.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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