Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Municipal Elections 2023: Neil Anderson hopes to retain seat on Wilmington City Council

Neil Anderson, a small business owner and territory manager in the furniture industry, is seeking another term on Wilmington City Council. (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — Neil Anderson, a small business owner and territory manager in the furniture industry, is seeking another term on Wilmington City Council.

Anderson, a registered Republican, was elected in 2019 and has served on numerous committees, including governance and appointments. He is also one of two council members on the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board.

Anderson, who also served on the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority board from 2011 to 2013, is up against six other candidates including incumbent Kevin Spears, as well as challengers John Lennon, Salette Andrews, Kathryn Bruner, Marlowe Foster and David Joyner.

PCD asked candidates to address issues pertinent to their municipalities, covering issues such as balancing growth and infrastructure, traffic and tourism, parking and climate change impacts.

Anderson’s answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall has been dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots can be requested through Oct. 31 and must be returned Nov. 7 (or post-marked as such).
  • Registration to vote will be open until Oct. 13; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration will be available only during one-stop early voting.
  • Early voting begins Oct. 19 and remains open through Nov. 4 (3 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 7, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

To vote early in New Hanover County, visit the Northeast Library (1241 Military Cutoff Road). From Oct. 28 to Nov. 4, voters can also go to CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 Second St.), Carolina Beach Town Hall (1121 Lake Park Blvd.) and the NHC Senior Center (2222 S. College Road).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their voter registration card, or verified here.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

Anderson’s answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall has been dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots can be requested through Oct. 31 and must be returned Nov. 7 (or post-marked as such).
  • Registration to vote will be open until Oct. 13; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration will be available only during one-stop early voting.
  • Early voting begins Oct. 19 and remains open through Nov. 4 (3 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 7, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

To vote early in New Hanover County, visit the Northeast Library (1241 Military Cutoff Road). From Oct. 28 to Nov. 4, voters can also go to CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 Second St.), Carolina Beach Town Hall (1121 Lake Park Blvd.) and the NHC Senior Center (2222 S. College Road).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their voter registration card, or verified here.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

The candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily.

Port City Daily (PCD): Why re-run for city council now?

Neil Anderson (NA): There is still work left to do that I want to play a role in completing — projects and initiatives I feel strongly about and am heavily invested in that are either in their infancy or that need to be pushed across the finish line.

Frankly, I still have the energy and desire to go along with the experience and competence to be an exceptional council member.

PCD: Name three issues you think are most affecting the city currently and describe how you would work toward tackling them.

NA: In my opinion, and I believe the minds of most citizens, infrastructure to keep up with or catch up with our growth is number one. I believe the city has plans and projects that have recently been completed, underway, or coming soon that will help us better meet the needs of our citizens.

We are resurfacing 15 to 20 lane miles of streets per year and we need to get that average up around 20. Our current budget allocates over 16 million dollars to street and sidewalk preservation and maintenance projects — $8 million of that going to street rehab, which is a 33% increase in funding. This funding should get us up in the 23 to 24 lane miles.

As I write this, we are filling in the gaps (goat paths) between stretches of sidewalk on Oleander. Meanwhile, the NCDOT opened Military Cutoff extension and started resurfacing Oleander between Independence and College. They have also begun construction on the new interchange at Eastwood and Military.

With the addition of the new Military overpass, we now have two in the county, but the DOT will be constructing seven more in the next nine years. Every intersection we despise now will be continuous flow by around 2032, except College and Oleander drives, which is currently being re-analyzed in hopes of boosting its score to get funding from the NCDOT.

Stormwater upgrades are critical to many areas of town that experience flooding. This city will complete stage one of the Clear Run Branch stormwater improvement project later this year, with stage two to begin in 2025.

This 11-million-dollar investment is the city’s largest stormwater capital improvement project in history. It will improve the water quality of Clear Run Branch, enhance the natural habitat, and mitigate chronic flooding around New Centre and College Road.

I could go on and talk about the multi-use path project on Greenville Loop Road or detail the massive nCino Sports Field Park under construction. The city needs to keep up this level of investing in the infrastructure of our city.

There are numerous new projects on deck once we get caught up on overdue projects, for example widening Independence between Carolina Beach Rd and River Rd and constructing pickle ball courts at Empie or in another location.

No. 2: Double down on public safety, which means making sure our police and fire departments are operating at full staff levels and have all the tools and training they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability. These are city services our citizens expect to the best in the business and Council needs to makea sure the city delivers on that expectation.

No. 3: It is a challenge to pick just three because Wilmington has many needs and issues that need to be addressed, like our increasing homeless population, the rapidly increasing cost of housing, and aggressive, unsafe panhandling, but if I am to list just one more, it would be the goal of creating an economic environment that creates and attracts more middle-class jobs in the private sector.

City and county leaders devised a plan, invested, and executed major initiatives to get water, sewer, and natural gas along Hwy 421 to attract more industry. That investment is starting to pay off. Council needs to lean into our efforts with Wilmington Economic Development to continue and ramp up our efforts to attract more employers and help our existing businesses grow, so there are better paying jobs for our citizens.

PCD: Growth in the city continues at a rapid pace — 3.92% since the most recent census of 116,146 in 2020, now at 120,695. Jobs and affordable housing continue to be of top importance to keep people here; how as a city council member do you propose fostering a better balance with both? What will you bring to the table that hasn’t been considered yet?

NA: Last time I checked, our unemployment rate was just north of 3%, which most economist consider full employment — if you want a job, you can get a job. Referring to your prior question though, I realize there is a major need for better paying jobs. I covered that to some degree in my last response.

The average median home value went up 39% to $468,590 and the average median price for a condo or apartment is up 35% to $350,000 since 2020. Further, our local real estate is distorted by the large number of retirees, second homes, and vacation rentals. These factors limit supply and cause housing costs to be higher.

The city is boxed in by river and ocean and forced annexation no longer exists, so the only way for our tax base to keep pace with inflation is to do strategic, targeted infill. One excellent example of this strategy is the city recently altered our code to allow garage apartments behind homes in all single-family zoning categories (limited in size). This adds additional less-expensive rental property, while spreading it
out across the city.

Our housing availability simply lags our growth, which is why the minute a project gets completed, it is nearly fully leased up. The key here is to stay true to the future land use plan the city developed with input from our citizens. Stick with the plan and do not bow to pressure from developers to deviate. Some projects can handle additional density to offer workforce housing (rentals at reduced prices), but some sites just cannot handle more than what would fit under our existing code. We cannot get to the point where every developer thinks they must go denser and offer workforce housing rent control to get a project approved. This initiative needs to be site-specific and not something our planning staff encourages on every project.

As far as bringing something new to the table, I’d say you always have to be scanning the country looking for ways other cities are addressing the growing gap between wages and rents. It goes back to the need for better paying jobs in our community. That would go along way toward helping, but it will not occur overnight.

PCD: Homelessness has become a growing concern for many residents and local government officials in recent years. Do you support a housing-first approach? How/why? What else would you support to help the less vulnerable populations of our city?

NA: With our growing homeless population, I think we have to pursue all available
approaches. Philosophically, I much prefer a model where the sheltered person has
some skin in the game, are invested in their community, have set expectations like our new Eden Village community.

I am also concerned that, if we allow our homeless population to establish large, long-term encampments, it attracts more homeless persons from out of town. That sure appears to be happening now at the corner of MLK and Kerr. I do not want Wilmington to become a preferred location for the chronically homeless.

That said, the city, county, the faith-based community, and our dedicated local, non-profit organization need to continue to work together and be innovative about attacking this growing problem. The problem is societal and nationwide, so the
city government is not going to solve it alone. It will take an all hands-on deck
approach, which is pretty much what we are doing now, but sadly I do not think it is
situation that is going away any time soon.

I do believe the city needs to work with the county to come up with some better shelter options when there are extreme weather conditions. That is something we could address much better, perhaps with the help of the Endowment.

PCD: The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is reaching its end-of-life and funding has yet to be allocated toward its replacement. What have officials gotten wrong and right in expediting the process? What would you do that is different? Also, do you support a toll and any of the options on the table for its replacement? Explain.

NA: If you have lived in the area long enough, you know that our neighbors in Brunswick County ran off a state plan for a southern toll bridge around 2005. So, the state figured if our area did not want that project, we must be happy with what we have now.

In short, we pulled ourselves off their radar. Ever since, leaders on our side fo the river have been pushing for a new, fixed-height bridge replacement. I’m not sure what more we could do (along with rail realignment).

I do not like the idea of a tolling option for replacement of an existing bridge. When NCDOT completely reconstructed a significant portion of Capital Blvd in Raleigh, there was no discussion of requiring a toll. Why should we be any different? We pay the same gas tax, sales tax, and income tax as they do in Charlotte. So why should Wilmington residents pay a toll when other cities do not?

Now, if it were a completely new, additional bridge crossing, then I could get
behind a toll to help pay for it. I am confident that the combination of the ongoing
upkeep costs and the ever-increasing usage of the bridge, bridge replacement will rise to the top of the funding list. The NCDOT and Wilmington MPO will continue to pursue grants and investigate every possible option.

We are also fortunate to have respected, powerful state senators like Lee and Rabon working on this for us in Raleigh. I do not think replacement is imminent, but I do believe it will be sooner than most have predicted. I remain positive progress is slowly being made.

PCD: With sea-level rise continuing to increase and affect low-lying areas, such as downtown Wilmington, flood resilience and preventing natural disaster scenarios is a necessity in a hurricane-prone zone. What more would you suggest is implemented to protect the coastline, including the Cape Fear River banks?

NA: This has really been the purview of the state and federal government, so I think the city should stay in its lane address things local government traditionally does, such as capital-intensive stormwater projects like Clear Run Branch I mentioned earlier. We have several such projects in our long-term plans, and we need to keep chipping away at them.

The Cape Fear River is a navigable trade route with our largest state port. There are numerous agencies and levels of government that have a higher level of involvement and jurisdiction than the city. The same goes for our estuaries, marshes, and waterway.

CAMA, an arm of the state, has oversight here and the city does not need to layer in local ordinances that confuse property owners along these natural resources. Now, there may be areas that continuously have flooding issues in areas that cannot be remedied by adding stormwater infrastructure where we have to work with
the state and federal government to compensate the property owner to not build back, but either build up or relocate.

This type of thing will be unavoidable at some point in the near future.

PCD: Where do you stand on Cape Fear River growth — for instance, extending the Riverwalk under the Isabel Holmes Bridge and redeveloping the industrial area on the northern waterfront? Do you support building on the western banks of the Cape Fear River? Why or why not?

NA: I am fully in favor of extending the Riverwalk under the Holmes bridge to access more developable land and project a multi-use path in the direction of the airport. I have yet to see a proposed project that made sense and was feasible on the west bank of the river.

I do think there is some higher land north of the Cape Fear on the west bank of
the NE Cape Fear that is ripe for development, and I would welcome, but nothing as
intensive as what I have seen proposed to date. I would prefer the section of the west bank across from downtown to be residential or commercial versus industrial simply because of the aesthetics and providing more access to the river for the public.

PCD: Did you support the city’s recent purchase of the Thermo Fisher building in downtown Wilmington? What should be done with the two tracts of land that came with the purchase? Should it benefit taxpayers?

NA: When I was first approached about the idea of buying the TF/PPD building, my reaction was: Are you serious? But that was before I knew what price it could be bought for and what all came with it. I was on the council design committee that had just finished our last design elevation review to build a new city hall at 305 Chestnut for $90 to $100 million when this opportunity was first considered. We ended up getting a building that was appraised for $111 million for $68 million.

Council had also been debating how to add public parking to the north end of downtown, working on a public-private partnership with a developer when this purchase was first being considered. Well, the TF building came with a 1,022-space parking deck that would have cost us $30 million to build. Oh, and throw in the building was left fully furnished saving millions in new furnishings cost versus building a new city hall.

Lastly, the deal came with two parcels we can sell off for somewhere in the $15 to $18-million range. That’s just an incredible real estate deal. By getting most city employees under one roof, it will allow us to sell off several other properties we inhabit now that when combined with the two previously discussed parcels, when sold, we yield $40 to 45 million the city can use to pay down debt — and avoid any tax increase.

Building a new city hall at 305 Chestnut St. would have meant a three-to-four-cents per $100 tax increase. I have advocated the city retain a small portion of the northern parcel next to TF to add to the [Riverfront] Park, so the laydown yard during concerts can be moved over a tad to allow another point of egress from the park.

On the issue of what floors the city should occupy, I was one of two council members
who opposed occupying the top floors of the building. I contend city government should occupy floors one through four. Floors one and three were not an option for common sense-use reasons, so why not upfit the fourth floor to have some walled offices and occupy adjacent floors.

This would leave the upper floors available to rent at higher rates to help pay the operating expenses of this big building. I also worry about the inefficiencies of city employees spending too much time on elevators. Lastly, my goal, my dream would be to use those continuous upper floors to attract a new corporate headquarters to Wilmington. That’s not as easy when you only have floors two, four, seven and eight
to offer that prospect (TF will occupy five and six).

PCD: Some residents have accused the city council of only representing a select few in the community, rather than the needs of all. Do you agree with this sentiment? Explain. What would you do in a leadership position to represent more equitably?

NA: I hardily disagree with this assertion. I know I try to respond to all correspondence or inquiries in a timely manner. And I also try to get citizens answers in a timely manner or refer them to a contact that can assist them directly. If you live in the city of Wilmington, I represent and work for all of you, whether you voted for me, supported me or not.

In my mind, every council member should have blinders on in terms of race, socio-economic circumstances, where they live, etc. I have made and will make myself
available to anyone that wants to meet and discuss any subject or needs any sort of help I can provide in my capacity as a council member. There may be council members that focus more on “ a few” or a certain demographic, but I am not aware of any.


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