Monday, August 15, 2022

Tower 7 owners want residences, not office space, above Wrightsville Beach restaurant

Renderings of what Tower 7 on Wrightsville Beach could look like, should a series of applications from its owners be approved. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Wrightsville Beach)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — A father-and-son duo of real estate businessmen have put forth an application in Wrightsville Beach that could set the stage for a mild transformation of the Tower 7 restaurant building. 

Ross Tomaselli joined Cadence Realty, the firm that previously leased space atop Tower 7 in Wrightsville Beach, last year (freshman Wilmington City Councilman Luke Waddell is the firm’s principal broker). Tomaselli also works alongside his father Joel, who owns Sea Horse Management and previously developed Lumina Station. 

In May, Ross, through a limited liability company he organized, purchased the Tower 7 building and its parking lot for $2.3 million from members of the Saffo family, according to property records. 

Now, there is a proposal in the works to tweak town code to accommodate four new apartment units above Tower 7. The planning board considered a text amendment request at its Dec. 7 meeting that would lower the minimum square footage — from 1,500 to 500 — for residences permitted in mixed-use developments in the C-1 district. 

The C-1 district at Wrightsville Beach encompasses the downtown area, between Columbia Street and Latimer Street, including numerous beach bars, restaurants and retail stores. Renderings presented to the planning board depict a spruced up Tower 7 building  

The Tomasellis’ endgame for the Tower 7 building involves keeping the restaurant downstairs and converting the office space upstairs into leased residential space, as it was in the mid-1990’s, according to comments at the planning board meeting.

“We are looking to restore a prior use,” the Tomasellis’ attorney Sam Franck of Ward and Smith said at the planning board meeting. Franck has been involved in other beach town endeavors this year, too. He represented a development team hoping to gain approval for a large-scale, mixed-use project on Carolina Beach; and in Wrightsville Beach, he represented the owner of a beach gear rental company in an unsuccessful attempt to allow more open trade of umbrellas and beach chairs on the strand. 

The planning board expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of residential rentals atop Tower 7, describing it as a step toward a cleanup of downtown, which some board members said had become “obnoxious.” 

Left with questions about how the text amendment — which would apply across the C-1 zoning district, not just to Tower 7 — could affect other properties, the board continued the item to its next meeting in January. 

The C-1 district on Wrightsville Beach is highlighted in red. Tower 7 is located at the intersection of Lumina Avenue and Short Street. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Wrightsville Beach)

Specifically, the text amendment would make the off-street parking requirements less strenuous, but only for residences in mixed-use buildings located in the C-1 district. The off-street parking minimums are determined by the number of toilets in a residential structure. The vision for the building involves four residential units on the upper floor, each containing one toilet, and each with one off-street parking spot. 

The text amendment is just the first step, however. If the application is approved by the board of aldermen, the Tomasellis would need to file a second application for the right to establish the residences within the building; that’s because mixed-use structures — meaning those with commercial space on the bottom floor and residences on upper floors — require a special use permit in Wrightsville Beach’s C-1 district. 

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