SOUTHPORT — Big change and a major economic splash could be coming to Southport. But concerned residents and some officials of the quaint, coastal city fear it will lose its identity.
If approved, the 346-acre “Project Indigo” — spearheaded by East West Partners (downtown Wilmington’s Riverplace) and Bald Head Island Limited — would create a mixed-use development that could house half the current population of Southport (3,700).
At Thursday’s joint board of alderman and planning board meeting, Mayor Joe Pat Hatem called Indigo Phase II “the largest and most impactful development that Southport has seen since the first 100 lots in 1792.”
The development team also built Indigo Plantation in the 1980s and ’90s and owns Indigo Marina, which would neighbor Indigo Phase II.
Owned by Bald Head Island Limited, the land is primarily outside city limits and currently zoned R-20 (residential agricultural district). Officials plan to annex the entire proposed space into Southport and zone its entirety as a planned unit development (PUD).
An initial presentation Thursday lasted three hours and covered top concerns of board members and residents, like infrastructure and traffic impacts. Bald Head Limited CEO Chad Paul reassured, “We’re not going to screw this up.”
The property, which also borders Smithville Woods and Cades Cove, calls for 1,542 residential units, a mix of condos, duplexes, townhomes and cottages. The plan includes 80,000 square feet of non-residential use, potentially including retail, healthcare office space and a restaurant.
Indigo Phase II is proposing an average of four units per acre, less than the maximum requirement. The developers are striving for a marina-village feel. The higher density areas would be clustered adjacent to Indigo Plantation Marina with 188 condos and lofts above retail shops.
Moving farther from the marina would be more natural, lower-density areas with 178 townhomes and 108 duplexes, still walkable to the marina. The farthest from the marina focal point will include 98 cottages and eventually 670 single-family lots between 60 and 90 feet apart. The proposed estimates also include 300 multi-family units.
Paul touted throughout his presentation the intention is to retain green space, while ensuring the overall aesthetics match the current design of Southport.
“We’re not going to go cut down every tree. We’re not going to clear cut or do mass grading,” Paul said. “The inspiration for this: Take a walk down Bay Street, Atlantic Avenue, Brown Street. This is what we intend to do.”
He said the planning for roads and sidewalks — to line both sides of the streets with the additional planting of trees — will work around the current landscape, as best it can.
“The idea is harmony with nature,” Paul said.
Planning board member Gustavo Mibelli said he wants to know “how this marriage of the new and the old will take place.”
“We fought very hard to keep [Southport’s] character,” he added. “We value our town, city and we want to double its size in a way that ties together with what we have.”
Paul said architect John Murray, with Bowman Murray Hemingway, spent a day in Southport admiring the architecture, appreciating what makes it unique, to bring a desired style to the homes, sidewalks and landscaping.
East West Partners founder Roger Perry likened Indigo Phase II to Meadowmont, one of his developments in Chapel Hill. The two are similar in size, characteristics and surroundings. The 435-acre development is one-third green space and generates a $1 billion taxable value for Chapel Hill, according to Perry.
With the addition of roughly 1,500 extra people to the area comes the challenge of adequate water and sewer, officials noted. The town has already faced water and sewer capacity issues. According to Paul, the team has purchased 78,000 gallons of water and sewer to serve the new portion of development; the line would connect to the city line and ultimately the county. The developers will spend roughly $1.5 million on the upgrades.
Southport’s limited options to travel out of town also raised concerns. Raleigh engineering firm Kimley-Horn provided a 400-page traffic analysis the developers purchased. It was approved by N.C. Department of Transportation on Mar. 3. The firm made recommendations to address the already congested roadways, including additional turn lanes at the NC 211 at NC 87 and Robert Rourke Drive intersection.
Initially, it didn’t appear there was enough easement to complete the project. Bald Head Limited made an agreement with NCDOT to lease a 3.5-acre lot, bordered by Browns Chapel on the eastern side, as a laydown yard (space for equipment and materials) for four years, while construction is done.
Alderman Richard Alt raised concerns about traffic leading out of Indigo Plantation Road, connecting to Maple Avenue, also passing Southport Elementary School. He said the area is jammed up twice a day as is.
The “Project Indigo” team said the traffic study was done during the school year, as opposed to peak tourist season. Perry encouraged all board members to read the traffic impact analysis in its entirety to get the whole picture.
He also said the developers will pay for all traffic mitigation recommendations.
“This is not love it or shove it,” Perry said. “It has to be a collaborative effort.”
Paul and Perry emphasized the proposed neighborhood is meant to be inclusive to all residents. It will not be gated and will encourage even non-residents to utilize community amenities.
Construction would be phased, and Perry said it would be at least two years before anyone moved into the first house. He plans to start building within the area already zoned PUD in the city limits and work outward. He proposed selling 125 to 175 homes per year. Paul added that. lots will not be cleared until they are sold.
“The price range of the houses is going to be quite high, and the homes are not going to be huge,” Perry said.
Southport consists of mostly a 45-years-old-and-up community, according to developers’ research. Perry said the demographics he is targeting are near-retired or retired couples, likely with older children or no children.
Indigo Plantation resident Rebecca Kelly said her parents purchased a home in Indigo and she has since moved into the area as well.
“There are more of us coming with young children,” Kelly said. “Unless you are advertising this as a 55-and-older community, I would be very careful saying that in a room full of people.”
Mayor pro tem Karen Mosteller said slow change is a thing of the past for Southport and moving forward with sustainability and diversity are key for its future.
“Diversity of all kinds: age, gender, race, are compelling reasons to develop in a sustainable manner,” Perry agreed.
The proposed plan would incorporate an assisted living facility in conjunction with Liberty Healthcare.
East West partner McKay Seigel said the plan is still in flux but will bring “tremendous” economic benefits to the city. “Assuming the whole thing is annexed, the residential portion of the project would be $750 million in added taxable value,” he said.
Commercial amenities would bring another $26 million, Paul said — revenue that goes to the city.
“It doesn’t make sense to build this development in the [extra-territorial jurisdiction] and have $600 million in tax go to the county and the city not get it,” he added. “The future tax value will bring funds to do things like upgrade the electrical and supply a revenue base to do things we need to do in the town.”
A rezoning application and master development plan were submitted concurrently to the planning board. It has 90 days to provide a recommendation to the board of aldermen. A town hall meeting for the public to learn more about Indigo Plantation Phase II will be held Apr. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Southport Community Building, 223 E. Bay St. Perry assured a traffic engineer would be present to answer remaining questions and concerns.
In total there will be seven opportunities for the public to hear more, ask questions and raise concerns. Three public meetings are scheduled for next month. Two more will be held in May and another two in June. The planning board will make its final decision June 16.
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