On Wednesday, a coalition of Wilmington-area groups met on the deck of the battleship North Carolina to voice their opposition to a text amendment that would allow new development to move forward on the west shore of the Cape Fear River.
The proposed residential and commercial development site is sometimes referred to as Point Peter and is located just north of the battleship. This was visible from the deck of the battleship as representatives from various nonprofit groups spoke about the potential challenges a development could create, including burdens on infrastructure, environmental concerns, and destruction of cultural resources.
Travis Gilbert, executive director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, said the groups were trying to “convey that it is not a good idea to rezon Point Peter”.
Opposition to the amendment to the text comes just days before it was considered by the New Hanover County Council of Commissioners. The amendment would establish the Riverfront Mixed-Use Urban District, a new zoning designation.
The new neighborhood is necessary for the currently proposed project to move forward, according to project developer KFJ Development Group.
âWe don’t match anything else,â Frank Pasquale, group technical director, told the New Hanover County Planning Board in November.
The initial plans for the project, dubbed the Villages at Battleship Point, included hundreds of condos and apartments as well as spaces for restaurants, retail and a “high end hospitality”. The developers are looking to build on an 8.4-acre site at 1100 Point Harbor Road, which is located just across the river from the north end of downtown Wilmington.
The planning board denied the group’s request to establish the zoning district at its December 2 meeting. The KFJ Development Group appealed the decision and the item was placed on the agenda for the January 10 meeting of the New Hanover County Council of Commissioners.
Because the land is located at the confluence of the Cape Fear River and the Northeastern Cape Fear River, it is vulnerable to the forces of the water that surrounds it, according to Kemp Burdette, a Cape Fear ranger with Cape Fear River Watch.
âPoint Peter is at the mercy of the water around him,â he said. “All this water is going up one way or another.”
Burdette said high tide flooding is becoming more common and the region will see more water in the future as sea levels rise. Burdette pointed to a photograph taken on January 3 that showed water surrounding the proposed development site, rendering it unsuitable for the proposed project, he said.
“The rezoning request (…) would allow high density development in an area remarkably unsuitable for the project they planned,” he said. âAllowing this kind of development on Peter Point or anywhere along the west side of the river is sheer folly.
Brayton Willis, who chairs the Brunswick County NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee, said the project would worsen flooding in the area, which is already “becoming the norm.” Several inches of water covered large swathes of the parking lot and road leading to Battleship North Carolina on Wednesday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts between one and three feet of sea level rise in Wilmington by 2060, according to information provided by the coalition.
Willis also discussed how the proposed development conflicts with flood considerations and other standards outlined in Section 9 of the New Hanover County Unified Development Order.
Gilbert said the proposed project would block views of Battleship North Carolina, one of New Hanover County’s two National Monuments.
“It would be extremely disappointing (…) if a 240-foot wall prevents the view of this memorial,” he said.
The Historic Wilmington Foundation would support a zoning change at the site that would protect the views of Battleship North Carolina and also protect the archaeological resources previously recorded at the site. The rezoning could include height restrictions and setback requirements, Gilbert said.
While some West Rim plots are zoned for industrial or commercial development, Willis said citizens could step in to help future low-impact development in the area.
âJust like the developer asked for rezoning, citizens could do the same,â he said.
Groups represented at the press conference included 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, New Hanover County Chapter of the NAACP and the Coastal Federation of North Carolina.
Members of the public can submit comments on the proposed project to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners until noon on January 9. Comments can be submitted online at planning.nhcgov.com/public-comment-form.
Journalist Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or [email protected]