Environmental concerns lead conversation for New Hanover commissioners at Point Peter work session

The development of the western bank of the Cape Fear River was under discussion again on Thursday afternoon.

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The development of the western bank of the Cape Fear River was under discussion again on Thursday afternoon.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners held a work session on Thursday to discuss the rezoning request of Point Peter, the land on the western side of the Cape Fear River.

The proposed high-rise development, Battleship Point, would be built on Point Peter and contain nearly 900 apartments and condominiums, 100,000 square feet of restaurants and retail space, and room for a hotel.

The land is a flood plain and environmental scientists say the land is going to be totally underwater by 2050. If the land is developed, experts say the water will have to go somewhere which lead commissioner Rob Zapple to say the area seems incredibly problematic to develop on.

“When you put a hard structure in, which I didn’t hear any support for from the experts, you’re basically taking water that’s currently there and moving it someplace else,” Zapple said.

This could potentially cause additional flooding in Downtown Wilmington or around the Battleship.

After hearing concerns, Jim Lea and Kirk Pugh, the developers requesting the rezoning with KFJ Development Group, say they recognize them and aim to address them.

“Make Wilmington a better place, make New Hanover County a better place. That’s our intention. With safe, environmental building,” Lea said. “We care about this community. We’re from here, raised our families here. We’re not out-of-town developers, we care about Wilmington.”

With a goal of creating a community and an economic boost, they say they want the development to be a compliment to the City of Wilmington.

“And an example of how things can be done even on a large scale, but done well and done in a responsible manner,” Pugh said.

Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman asked several experts plainly — could the land be developed or built on? Coastal Geologist Robert Young said anything could be built on. If anyone wanted to, they could build in the middle of the river. It all comes down to cost versus reward, the safety of people, and access for emergency services.

The developers are also looking for approval across the bridge through the Town of Leland. Its Planning Board approved the proposal for annexation and rezoning last week, leaving the final decision up to the council on April 14.

In the meantime, Zapple says he hopes communication across municipalities remains open and decisions aren’t made too quickly.

“We’re talking about decisions for development which will be here for multiple generations or forever,” Zapple said. “We just have to proceed with as much information and make really careful decisions on what it is we allow to happen over there on the west bank.”

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield says they need to move cautiously and keep in mind the unintended consequences of the development as discussions continue.

The Historic Wilmington Foundation shared a statement following Thursday’s meeting.

“The Historic Wilmington Foundation (HWF) shares the New Hanover County Commissioners’ concerns about the unintended consequences of urban development on Point Peter to surrounding properties, particularly the USS North Carolina and Wilmington National Register Historic District. Flooding, aggravated by introduced, impervious surfaces on Point Peter must be carefully assessed before decisions are rendered about rezoning the west bank of the Cape Fear River. Scientific evidence presented by experts during this afternoon’s work session indicated flooding may be exacerbated at Battleship Park and downtown Wilmington. A common refrain during the work session was ‘the water has to go somewhere.’ As a memorial to the over 11,000 North Carolinians who gave the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation during WWII, New Hanover County bears a responsibility to preserve the Battleship’s setting, maintain its resilience to climate change, and protect access to the National Historic Landmark for roughly one quarter million visitors each year.”

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners did not make a decision following the work session. Instead, they asked the Planning Board to return with various options for the land including conservation and preservation to developing the land responsibly. The date for the meeting has not been set.

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