Wilmington neighbors lose battle to stop ‘inappropriate’ construction


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — On Monday, we reported that neighbors of New Hanover Regional Medical Center were fighting against the construction of a water supply system. That fight ended Thursday at a hearing before the Board of Adjustment.

An NHRMC representative says the hospital needs this system to be prepared for future disasters like Hurricane Florence. It would allow them to provide, in theory, an endless supply of water if the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority was not able to provide it.

Rendering of NHRMC emergency backup water system on Glen Meade Rd. in Wilmington.
(Source: NHRMC)
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Mitch Cunningham lives right next door to the property where NHRMC is building the emergency backup water system. When he found out about the project, he filed an appeal with the Board of Adjustment.

The hearing in downtown Wilmington Thursda

y lasted about two and a half hours. It’s safe to say many neighbors left disappointed with the outcome.

“Wilmington’s an old city. I was raised here, my mother was born here. So I just hope you’ll take it into heart and see where we’re coming from,” said neighbor Judy Roundtree.

In October of 2018, the hospital submitted an application to build an emergency well house on theĀ residential property. The city formally approved that request last month.

Neighbors display signs to bring attention to a construction issue.
(Photo: Matt Bennett/WWAY)

“The case is whether such a facility meets the exception of the code, especially located in a residential R15 neighborhood, and not for the purpose of providing utility to that neighborhood,” said another neighbor.

In a 20-page power point, Cunningham cited excerpts from the land development code and argued that the proposed water supply system was not a well house, but an industrial sized chemical storage facility.

“The utility exceptions aren’t there to allow a commercial neighbor to place its plant equipment in a residential neighborhood. The exceptions are there to enable Duke Energy or our water company to put in a pumping station to serve the residents,” said neighbor Martin Gay.

Hospital attorneys and the city disagreed with that interpretation, saying the language in the development code does not specify what such a system would be used for.

Neighbors said allowing this sets a precedent that industrial systems could be constructed in any Wilmington neighborhood.

“The hospital can buy that house, they can buy the next one and the next one and the next one. So I’ll have a water industrial plant on this property, the next one I could have an electrical utility plant,” said another neighbor.

The board ultimately voted to uphold the decision of the city, allowing the construction to continue. Unless an appeal is filed in superior court, the construction will continue, and hospital representatives expect it to be completed in June.

Both Cunningham and NHRMC representatives declined to comment on the board’s decision.