Planning board denies rezoning for potential riverside hotel

NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — Thursday evening, the New Hanover County Planning Board voting to deny rezoning land by the battleship to be riverside urban mixed use, putting developers’ plans to build a riverside hotel on hold.

These plans included three towers more than 240 feet tall across from Wilmington’s downtown. Though some believe the hotel and zoning could bring more business to Wilmington, others worry about environmental impact and it’s influence over the city’s look.

Dozens of people submitted comments and spoke out against the rezoning for Battleship Point Thursday.

“If you build that entire area with hardened shorelines, you literally put the river in a straight jacket,” said one speaker, who said he was a retired Army Corp Engineer.

Many speakers factored climate change and rising river levels into the conversation.

“If this structure will remain, it will be an island, and the roads servicing this will be subject to high tide flooding,” said another speaker.

Battleship Point architect, Toby Keeton explained the project is meant to be environmentally adaptive. According to Keeton, they’re raising the structure far above river levels, placing parking decks beneath the hotel, planning to fill each level as tides rise.

“They can be filled again and again and again to respond to that change over time,” he explained.

New Hanover County typically measures it’s structures from top to bottom, and limits buildings of this kind to about 240 feet. Developers say the structure will be just that, not including the parking deck it will be built on.

“I really thought they were trying to limit the height to 240,” said Board Chair Jeffrey Petroff. “They’re saying 240 above parking. And I understand they’re only proposing a few levels of parking. But this is a text amendment.”

Board members emphasized text amendments they approve will need to apply to other structures down the road. Though developers said they needed to raise the structure because it sits on a dynamic flood plain, they were willing to compromise on height.

“That area is an industrial disaster,” said developer Frank Pasquale. “You don’t like 241 feet? Tell me what you like.”

With concerns over impact on the city’s look, the building’s height, and it’s environmental impact, the board denied rezoning the riverside property.

However, the board approved a continuation for developers, meaning the conversation could return in a future board meeting.

In response to this outcome, developers’ attorney, Jim Lee stated:

“We are disappointed, but will not stop in our efforts to save and transform that land and river that surrounds it. The county and city deserve a vibrant waterfront on both sides of the river. It’s always easier to be the no-vote. It’s much harder to have vision and think ahead. We’ll continue on the positive path. There are plenty of options and we’ll pursue them.”

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