Thursday, February 9, 2023

Commissioners likely to deny Battleship Point for now, chair Olson-Boseman appears in-person to board work session

Commissioner chair Julia Olson-Boseman spent the majority of Thursday’s work session about possible western bank development on her phone, while her colleagues engaged in questions about the process. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Chair Julia Olson-Boseman stepped back into the public sphere for a county work session Thursday, her first in-person board appearance as her legal troubles continue to evolve. She joined fellow commissioners in the government center conference room for a second round of in-depth discussion about the western banks of the Cape Fear. 

Over the last six months, county staff has been researching scenarios to develop — or not — the shorelines across from downtown Wilmington. They compiled pros and cons of five land-use options: conservation, limited use, working waterfront, small scale mixed use and larger urban mixed use. 

READ MORE: County reveals five scenarios for CF River western banks, to be presented to commissioners

Commissioners last discussed the possibilities for the western banks during their first work session, March 31, and agreed they needed more time to absorb the information. The conversation about the land centered mostly on flooding concerns and building viability — the same theme to retain the spotlight this time around.

Following county planning director Rebekah Roth’s presentation, commissioners engaged in a fairly unanimous discussion that more information about the property was needed before they could make any well-informed decisions.

Western bank development has been a hot topic in the community for a year now since developer KJF submitted a formal proposal for Battleship Point. The team wants to rezone two parcels it owns into a single planned high-rise mixed-use development, consisting of three towers, 240 feet each, with 550 condos, 300 apartments, a hotel and commercial space. 

However, the development, to be located on Point Peter, needed to be rezoned from heavy industrial use to the creation of a zoning district not yet created. A formal vote to establish a riverfront mixed-use zoning headed to commissioners Jan. 10 where commissioner Rob Zapple motioned to table the discussion. 

Tuesday, county manager Chris Coudriet recommended bringing a vote back before commissioners on the proposal that he described as “just hanging there,” for seven months with no decision.

“I believe we need to recommend bringing closure to that item,” he told the board. “And I don’t think you’re in a position to make a decision before the technical analyses come out about approval or otherwise.”

He proposed working alongside Roth to make a recommendation to deny — at least for now.

“So, we can clean that up and spend time and focus on the technical review and putting you in a position to make longer-term decisions about policy,” Coudriet said.

It had been an hour into the meeting before Olson-Boseman spoke her first and only words: “Do you know if there’s any talk of the City of Wilmington annexing [the land]?” she asked, to which Coudriet said he hadn’t.

While commissioners debated the best way to perform the necessary studies needed on the land, Olson-Boseman — who had mostly been engaged in texting the first 45 minutes of the meeting — took a phone call and walked away from the room for about five minutes.

The four other commissioners actively participated throughout the meeting. 

“I feel like there’s a lot more we don’t know about this land and what we should be doing and what we want to do with it,” vice chair Deb Hays said. “I think [studies] would help inform us to craft the best land use plan.”

Commissioner Rob Zapple agreed and noted he was worried about the “long haul” of future development. According to Unique Places to Save — a nonprofit working to conserve Eagle’s Island before Diamondback Development constructs a hotel and spa — the area recorded 174 flood events in 2020. It would also require improved water and sewer, as well as highway infrastructure before any development could exist.

“It becomes our responsibility and certainly anything that brings people over there to live or to work, we have to consider emergency services and access,” he said.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield — 15 minutes late to the meeting — who is a realtor, compared it to buying a house: “Down the road will I have flooding problems? Will I have water, sewer problems? … Knowing as much as you can on the front end will help you head off a lot of problems on the back end.”

Roth explained commissioners’ next steps would be to refine the county’s vision for the land, create a planning framework with a narrow scope and goals, and mitigate the environmental impact. The final step would be to update the district’s zoning to align with the resulting plan.

But Coudriet warned: “I don’t think it’s going to be quick.”

He estimated it will take more than eight weeks to conduct the studies and bring findings back to the board.

Olson-Boseman struck the gavel to adjourn the meeting and made a quick exit out of the room.

Port City Daily reached out after to ask if she had any feedback from the work session to which the chairwoman replied: “no.”

Olson-Boseman’s in-person appearance comes a week after a judge temporarily lifted an order for her arrest for contempt of court for not turning over her shuttered law practice’s financial documents. The chair woman is being investigated by the North Carolina State Bar for mishandling client funds. 

She is also facing other legal issues: The SBI is investigating her for taking a client’s money without giving proper representation, and earlier in the week, her wife filed a separation claiming Olson-Boseman took over $100,000 from their joint account and also maxed out credit cards in her wife’s name (though Olson-Boseman was an authorized user) for another business venture.

Despite outcry from many calling for Olson-Boseman’s removal from office, there is no legal standing to do so, a county spokesperson confirmed, unless the member moves out of its jurisdiction or is convicted of a felony.

A more in-depth article about the county staff’s suggestions for the western bank and the commissioners’ feedback will be published by Port City Daily Saturday.

Catch up on previous coverage of Olson-Boseman:

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