Mixed-use project, nearly 300 apartments pitched in commercial dead zone off College

A proposed mixed-use development would add 298 residential units and 15,000 square feet of retail to an underutilized property off South College Road. (Port City Daily/City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON –– Plans for a major mixed-use development with nearly 300 apartments are in the works for the site of a former auto dealership at South College Road and Wilshire Boulevard.

On behalf of property owner Susan Booth Stevenson, Bella Vista Development Group is seeking a rezoning through the City of Wilmington from regional business district to urban mixed-use district (UMX) for the approximately 6.06 acres.

The project calls for 298 residential units, with a pool and other amenities, and 15,000 square feet of ground-level retail. Ninety-four surface parking spots are planned in addition to a 364-space parking deck wrapped by the commercial and multi-family buildings.


City staff is recommending approval of the rezoning to the planning commission, who will consider the proposal Wednesday during its regularly scheduled meeting.

According to the plans, the developers are envisioning retail, food and beverage use among the commercial tenants.

College students, faculty and young professionals are expected to make up the residential population of the development, which is less than a mile from UNC Wilmington’s campus. Two three-story walk-up buildings will contain 48 apartments and two four-story buildings will withhold 250 apartments total.

Two three-story walk-up buildings will contain 48 apartments and two four-story buildings will withhold 250 apartments.

The applicants suggest this project will spark redevelopment of the surrounding area, which includes the vacant K-Mart next door and emptied Dick’s Sporting Goods across the street. The site itself, which was last sold in 1994 for $1.8 million, according to property records, has sat unused for a year.

An automobile dealership occupied the location from the late 1960s up until 2020, when Hendrick Honda moved to Market Street, according to tax records reviewed by city staff.

The property neighbors University Place Apartments and is separated by a 20-foot buffer and vegetation on the rear property line that would need to be retained. If built, this project would add to the apartment presence south of UNCW’s borders. North of the university, a private student-focused housing development is being built with rooms available for more than 500 tenants.

In the planning commission’s agenda, staff concluded it is overall favorable to the plans and agreeable to the notion that the project will attract subsequent redevelopment projects. The planning staff also wrote that they support the high residential density along the route, the limited surface parking and the building designs.

“The proposal would allow the construction of a mixed-use project that will provide housing and some commercial services on the east side of College Road — the same side as UNCW — a plus,” the recommendation reads.

However, the staff noted at least one shortcoming: The development may tempt pedestrians to cross the busy College Road to Harris Teeter, an unsafe trek without an existing crosswalk. Alternatively, walkers could opt for a longer route to the crosswalk on the south side of Wilshire and then cross Wilshire again to reach the grocer and shopping center.

A traffic impact analysis was conducted, as required for a use this intense, and no immediate improvements were recommended for South College Road or Wilshire Boulevard for these plans.

Staff also made clear in the documents that they’d prefer the project take advantage of the recently adopted Commercial District Mixed Use (CDMU) development option rather than be a UMX project. As a CDMU, the project would not require rezoning since it would be permitted by right in the current district. The developers could also receive permission to pursue uncapped residential density if 10% of units were dedicated to workforce housing.

“That said, while the proposed application of the UMX zoning district is not generally favored at this suburban location, the project does exhibit many attributes called for in the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan,” staff wrote.

The planning commission meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers within City Hall, located at 102 North 3rd Street. The meeting will be streamed online for the public to tune in from home.


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