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Echo Farms Rezoning Back On Planning Panel's Agenda

By Cece Nunn, posted Apr 4, 2017
Echo Farms golf course property is the subject of a rezoning request on Wednesday's city of Wilmington Planning Commission agenda. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
A rezoning request from residents who object to the owner’s plans for the Echo Farms golf course is again part of the city of Wilmington’s Planning Commission agenda.

The city’s staff has recommended denial of the request involving nearly 140 acres at 4114 Echo Farms Blvd. The request is rare in that it came from residents rather than the property’s owner, Matrix Development Group. The residents seeking the rezoning don’t want to see the golf course disappear and be replaced by the number of residential units Matrix has proposed in a site plan that has already received approval from the city's Subdivision Review Board and Planning Commission.

“We do not have much hope that the Planning Commission is going to approve our rezoning request ... It’s an uphill battle for us,” said Henry Winters, a member of Echo Farms Residents Association Inc., one of the parties seeking the rezoning for the golf course property from a higher-density designation that allows multi-family development to an R-15, Residential District.

But the residents and their attorney, Murphy Averitt III, still plan to attend and speak during Wednesday’s 6 p.m. Planning Commission meeting, where the rezoning request is the first item on the agenda.

Matrix’s preliminary plan replaces the golf course with 164 single-family lots, 31 townhomes and more than 200 apartments, according to Planning Commission documents. The commission voted unanimously March 1 to conditionally approve the preliminary plan for the residential development.

In January, the commission had voted to continue the residents’ rezoning request until April, pending a potential Board of Adjustment appeal decision. But since then, Matrix asked to withdraw the request, and the adjustment board agreed to the withdrawal.

“With respect to the City’s processes and resources, we recently withdrew our zoning Board of Adjustment procedural appeal. While we believe that the City should not be compelled to consider hostile rezoning petitions filed without the land owner's consent, we are confident that the Planning Commission and City Council will consider that issue appropriately without the need for guidance from the Board of Adjustment,” Matrix officials said in a statement emailed in March. “Furthermore, as the City has already approved a site-specific development plan for our project, there is no longer any reason for the City to consider rezoning our land.”

The city’s staff documents say the requested rezoning “is not consistent with the recommendations of the City of Wilmington Strategic Plan. The proposal would result in less efficient use of land and fewer housing options.The comprehensive plan supports mixed-use development, including the appropriate mixing of residential uses and types. The proposed rezoning does not acknowledge the long-term financial constraints of a failing business, the golf course. Further, it does not acknowledge the mix of single-family and multi-family uses already developed within the Echo Farms area.”

In denying the request, the documents also state, "Under the current multi-family zoning, future development could result in an increase in housing supply, an increase in housing options, and would be in an area already served by existing infrastructure. Under the proposed rezoning, new residential development would be limited to fewer housing options and a loss of housing supply well located relative to nearby services. Based on the information contained in this case summary, the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan, and the city’s Strategic Plan, staff does not believe that the request is reasonable and in the public interest.”
 
Even if the Planning Commission recommends denying the request and the City Council complies, the conflict is continuing in the court system, with the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed in December expected to continue through the summer, Winters said.
 
Residents plan to “hang in there,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, Matrix expects to proceed with development plans.

“While it's possible that litigation could impact timing for the start of construction, as of now we anticipate construction will commence toward the end of this year,” Matrix officials said in an emailed statement in March.
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