Groups: new demand for development of “pure madness” Hanover

Wilmington Historic Foundation Executive Director Travis Gilbert at a podium on the deck of the USS North Carolina in Wilmington on Wednesday kicks off a press conference on concerns over a development project just south of the battleship. A coalition of environmental and historical conservation groups, including the founding, oppose a developer’s request to create a new zoning district along the west bank of the Cape Fear River and adjacent to it. in downtown Wilmington.
Photo: Trista Talton

WILMINGTON – Next week, the New Hanover County Council of Commissioners is expected to consider an amendment to the regulatory text that would pave the way for a development group to move forward with a proposal to build luxury condominiums on the waterfront. the river that a coalition of environments and historic preservation groups argue would destroy the river’s habitat, burden the county’s infrastructure, and threaten areas of historic and cultural significance.

The decision of the board during its Monday meeting could be a projection of how a coastal county measures the development market in a changing climate, where sea level rise increasingly affects the Cape Fear River all the way to downtown Wilmington.

This was evident on Wednesday when the coalition held a press conference on the battleship North Carolina’s deck, which sits just south of Point Peter, the land at the confluence of the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers where the developers plan to build a complex of three skyscrapers called Villages at Battleship Point.

At around noon, about an hour after the press conference ended, participants had to cross flood waters that had risen with the tide to get from the entrance gates of the battleship’s visitor center to their cars. In some areas of the land the water was almost knee deep.

Flood water submerged much of the road leading from the parking lot to US 421. The water was so deep along a short stretch of the road that drivers could not see the yellow dividing line.

Battleship North Carolina is currently undertaking “Living With Water,” a project to make the land around the national historic site more flood resistant.

The approximately 8-acre site being considered for the proposed project by KFJ Development Group, LLC, served as the backdrop for the press conference, during which coalition members verbally ticked off a list of their concerns about the development in a continuing push urging the county to oppose the developer’s demands.

“Point Peter is at the mercy of the water around it,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper with Cape Fear River Watch. “All this water is going up one way or another. Allowing this kind of development on Peter Point or anywhere along the west side of the river is sheer folly.

He noted that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, projects sea level rise to 1 to 3 feet in Wilmington by 2060.

“Point Peter would be unrecognizable and completely underwater,” said Burdette.

He asked where the runoff from the proposed development would be directed.

Participants at Wednesday's press conference walked through floodwaters caused by the rising tide inundating portions of the historic site's parking lot near the banks of the Cape Fear River.  The ship sits just south of land and is believed to be the site of a trio of high rise condominiums.  Photo: Trista Talton
Participants at Wednesday’s press conference walked through floodwaters caused by the rising tide inundating portions of the historic site’s parking lot near the banks of the Cape Fear River. The ship sits just south of land and is believed to be the site of a trio of high rise condominiums. Photo: Trista Talton

As for NOAA’s projections, potential condominium buyers would barely have paid off their mortgages by then, he said.

In early December, the New Hanover County Planning Council voted 5 to 1 down on the developer’s request to add a new zoning district called the Riverfront Urban Mixed-Use Zoning district to the county’s Unified Development Ordinance, or UDO.

The planning council’s decision essentially overturned another request from the developer to rezone the property.

In New Hanover County, the Council of Commissioners makes the final decision on UDO amendment requests.

The coalition argued on Wednesday that the proposed zoning district conflicts with the New Hanover UDO, which aims to minimize losses to the public and private sectors in flood-prone areas.

Point Peter sits in a floodplain designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, an area coalition members say is vulnerable to flooding, storm surges and sea level rise.

The coalition includes the Brunswick County Chapter of the NAACP, the Cape Fear Group of the Sierra Club, the Cape Fear River Assembly, Cape Fear River Watch, the Coastal Plain Conservation Group, the Historic Wilmington Foundation, the Lower Cape Fear League of Women Voters, the New Hanover County Chapter. from the NAACP and the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

Representatives of these groups underlined the environmental, cultural and historical importance of the currently zoned industrial area.

Burdette said the portion of the river on both sides of the property is a primary nursery area, or PNA, a designation determined by the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission. The commission designates PNAs to protect habitat, especially along bottom areas, including sand, mud, seagrass and oyster rocks.

Brayton Willis, a member of the Brunswick County branch of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Committee, pointed out that the property is included in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a national heritage corridor established by Congress to recognize the culture of Gullah Geechee.

The Gullah Geechee are descendants of Africans enslaved in the rice, indigo and cotton plantations of the islands of the lower Atlantic coast.

“Not many people know this region, this vast and beautiful panorama, but it is in the Gullah Geechee heritage corridor,” said Willis. “It’s a national heritage corridor and what they are proposing with the Battleship Point project is the destruction of this important resource. It is a scarce resource and it needs to be protected.

He referred to North Carolina’s Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan 2020 and the Lower Cape Fear Blueprint as a guide on how to approach future development in the face of climate change.

“There are good answers, things we can improve,” he said. “And, I think we need to make sure that our planners take full advantage of what we can do in the state and across the country in the face of climate change to minimize that.”

Willis said climate-friendly, low-impact development would be an appropriate option for the property.

“Rather than building great mega-infrastructures, we can do things here that will not only preserve and protect the ecosystems, history and culture of the floodplains, but also give our gift to our children and grandchildren. They are the ones who will end up playing the bill, ”he said.

Historic Wilmington Foundation executive director Travis Gilbert said rezoning the land would have a detrimental effect on the area’s cultural resources, especially the USS North Carolina, one of the county’s two national historic monuments.

“We would like this parcel to be dezoned with prescriptive zoning measures that protect the views of this memorial and national historic site. The measures could include height restrictions and setbacks that preserve the views of the USS North Carolina, ”he said. “We cherish this site. In the opinion of the Wilmington Historic Foundation, it would be extremely disappointing for a 240-foot wall to obstruct the view of this memorial.

The subject parcel also includes an archaeological resource recorded by the North Carolina Office of State Archeology in April 1979. This resource includes cultural relics on land and underwater “which help illuminate the industrial history of New Hanover County” Gilbert said.

Commissioners are accepting public comments on the proposed project until noon on January 9. Comments can be submitted online at

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