Five development options presented to New Hanover commissioners at west bank work session

New Hanover County Board of Commissioners are taking a long, hard look at the future of the western bank of the Cape Fear River.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County Board of Commissioners are taking a long, hard look at the future of the western bank of the Cape Fear River.

During a work session on Thursday, staff shared five different development scenarios.

  • Conservation

This is the most restrictive option and would require restoration of the property. It would be open to the public in some capacity for things like hiking trails and canoeing. This option would likely mean a non-profit would purchase the property to create a conservation easement, but the county could be responsible for long-term maintenance of the land. County staff say developers want to buy, but it’s unclear if the current owners want to sell the land. This option could cause the county to lose $16-million of its tax base, but its the most environmentally friendly.

  • Limited Use

Limited Use could also be achieved through a conservation easement. It would allow more public access and small development of things like public bathrooms on the property. This option also alleviates flooding concerns, but could cause a loss in the county’s tax base as well.

  • Working Waterfront

This option is most in line with the current zoning of the property. It could allow the land to be used as boat and equipment sites to serve the offshore wind industry. However, staff says this would interfere with the aesthetics of downtown.

  • Single Scale Mixed Use

Single Scale Mixed Use is most similar to the Downtown Wilmington development pattern. This option would bring tourists to both sides of the riverfront, which staff says would alleviate some of the water/sewer concerns because it would be less intense than a high-scale urban scale project. However, single scale has similar environmental impacts as urban scale because staff says it’s more about the footprint of the development rather than the scale.

  • Urban Scale Mixed Use

This is the most intense option. It would increase the tax base, jobs, housing, and lodging while contributing to tourism. However, this type of development raises the most concerns for traffic, public safety, water/sewer capacity, and would require a significant infrastructure investment.

Both extremes of conservation and urban scale development seem unlikely. Staff says a combination of the middle three would be ideal.

The commissioners did not make a final decision on the fate of the west bank, but they did direct staff to connect with state and federal agencies to conduct flood risk and hydrologic assessments.

“You can throw money at anything and make it work. Does that mean its the right thing to do for the future and years down the road? No. We want to take this, we want to really have a strong analysis of what is going on over there currently and what do we need to do,” Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Deb Hays said.

“I would want to know up front what can and can’t be done when it comes to our zoning as opposed to the chicken and egg you’ve got to do this before we’re going to tell you x, y, and z. That way we don’t spend all of our energy, staff time, and resources on something that may not be fruitful,” Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said.

Staff is planning to bring a recommendation to commissioners to deny the initial proposal for Battleship Point. The commissioners tabled this discussion back in January and haven’t discussed it in a regular meeting since. The recommendation to deny is to bring closure to the item, because County Manager Chris Coudriet says the process of gathering more information on what development is possible on the west bank will be lengthy.

However, if the commissioners vote to deny the development, that does not mean it’s gone for good. Commissioners expect to discuss the development again after they learn more about what’s possible for the land and the developers bring forward a new proposal.

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