NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County development continues to sprawl to the north and south, and for some residents it was only a matter of time before enough was enough.
Homeowners in the Lord’s Creek, Woodlake, and Ocean Forest Lake neighborhoods at the southern end of Myrtle Grove Road banded together last week in opposition to 12 developments along Carolina Beach Road. Some have been recently approved, while others await the commissioners’ votes.
In total, 12 developments would bring more than 1,600 units, most multi-family, along a 10-mile stretch of Carolina Beach Road.
The workforce housing project Starway Village is close to breaking ground, while high-density multi-family developments, like the 74-unit Palm Grove Apartments and 48-townhome Peirson’s Point in Monkey Junction, the first awaiting approval and the latter approved.
Opposition ranged from outright contempt for any development at all, to a compromise of only building more single-family homes. A couple attendees also advocated for homeowners to chip in and hire a lawyer to fight the developments, citing the same tactic used by Forest Hills residents in the withdrawn Carolinian Inn redevelopment.
The single-family dwellers expressed interest in voicing collective concern at upcoming planning board and commissioners meetings, including the May 1 New Hanover County commissioners meeting. On the docket is a 327-townhome development next to Tarin Woods and a 64-unit multi-family project, both located along Carolina Beach Road.
Craig Malone, president of the Woodlake HOA and employee at Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, objected to lack of infrastructure. He said New Hanover County’s roads, water and sewer systems, and schools are not able to accommodate a large influx of people.
“I am not necessarily against adding affordable housing,” Malone said. “What I am opposed to is the accelerated high-density housing developments without first focusing on funding and providing reliable infrastructure, staffed schools and resources that can sustain the growth that is being proposed. Those things need to be taken care of first before we can have responsible growth in this county.”
Neighbors chimed in about the many car accidents that occur at the neighborhood entrance’s deceleration lane, along with flower beds, medians and mailboxes that have fallen victim to fast and furious drivers. Malone noted he has been requesting the county allow the homeowners to put in speed bumps in the neighborhood, but has gotten nowhere.
Another complaint was traffic. The residents said they sometimes spend upward of 10 minutes to pull out of their neighborhood onto the busy Carolina Beach Road during a long-morning commute. With the addition of 1,600 more units, some said that problem is only bound to worsen.
Another big issue for the homeowners was school capacity. According to a New Hanover County budget presentation on April 27, the only schools over capacity currently are Hoggard (by 351 students) Ashley (147 students), Laney (201 students) and Wilmington Early College (34 students), all high schools. County staff’s analysis of growth rates concluded elementary and middle school enrollment has declined to pre-2014 levels, while charter school enrollment has accelerated. Also, the school-age population is increasing at a rate slower than retirees moving to the area, more so than other age groups.
Still, many southend residents fear the influx of people in the area will change school capacity for the worse.
“Our students and our children are suffering,” Woodlake resident Jess Anderson said. “The overwhelming amount of properties being rezoned from R-15 [single-family residential] to high density is not helping our kids get back to where they need to be post pandemic.”
Some residents took a more hardline approach toward the developments, labeling a group as “HUD housing,” referring to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rental assistance for low-income families. However, Starway Village is the only development subsidized by the federal government.
A few of the projects have been discussed as including workforce housing, such as the 127-unit Mcquillan Pines and a 300-plus-unit project with a gas station in the 6800 block, but no commitment has been made.
Tom Toby, former 2022 candidate for county commissioner and Lord’s Creek resident, took aim at the workforce housing components.
“It’s a misnomer for ‘low income,’” he said. “Anybody that qualifies is just based on their income. It doesn’t have anything to do with their working, whether they’re getting public assistance, if they get money from a trust fund.”
Toby also called out a workforce housing bill, citing the legislation a “backdoor” for developers to push their projects through. Senate Bill 317 has gained significant support in the General Assembly and would allow a developer to bypass many local development ordinances and design standards to build housing on parcels 10 acres or more in any zoning district. The developments would be required to allocate 20% of the units to workforce housing, but the rest could be market rate.
New Hanover County staff have expressed concern over the bill’s leeway for developers.
Toby also targeted the commissioners’ motives on approving housing projects.
“There’s only one party in this county — it’s the real estate party,” Toby said. “I don’t want to step on toes or make anybody mad, but that’s the reality. If you look at the entire makeup of our board now, it’s all real estate development.”
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield is the owner of Barfield and Associates Realty, while Rob Zapple is a licensed general contractor, residential and commercial builder, and owner of Rob Zapple Design and Build Inc. New Hanover County planning board chair Jeffery Petroff is the owner of Coastal Land Design.
Toby and community leadership argued it would be hard to fight what they see as the inevitable approval of the examined projects, but noted they were stronger in numbers and should all show out in numbers at meetings and through email.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at email@example.com