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Project To Update County's Development Rules Gains Momentum This Month

By Cece Nunn, posted Apr 19, 2017
An update to the rules that govern development in New Hanover County is moving forward in county meetings this month, a process that will include a focus on trying to coordinate the county’s update with the city of Wilmington's update.

The county’s Planning and Land Use Department will hold a public engagement workshop for New Hanover’s updated Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) from 6 to 8 p.m. April 27 in the Human Resources Training Room at the New Hanover County Government Center.

“During this first public workshop, participants will hear a presentation on the UDO blueprint report and be able to speak with the consulting team and planning staff about the project,” said Chris O’Keefe, the county’s planning and land use director, in a news release. “This is an important opportunity for the community to provide input on the report and hear about the next steps for the project.”

On the same day before the public workshop, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and the county planning board will meet in a joint work session on the UDO at 2:30 p.m. in the Harrell Conference Room at the center.

The county hired Thomas & Hutton Engineering and LSL Planning, the same firm the city hired to consult on its Land Development Code, to prepare updated regulations, and the team has produced the draft blueprint report, available online.

“Over the next 18 months, we will be working with the County planning staff, elected officials, and community to update the current land development regulations to create the UDO. The outcome of the project will be to provide the County with a modern set of regulatory tools that will meet the needs of residents, developers, and County staff to guide the next decade of growth in New Hanover County,” the draft blueprint report says. “The updated regulations will include a mix of new zone districts, use regulations, and development standards to help the County guide development to meet these goals. Additionally, during the same time period we will be working with the City of Wilmington on a similar regulatory update project, one of the goals of which will be to coordinate the two new codes to the extent that coordination leads to ease of use and positive outcomes for both communities.”

Using the same consultant for both the city and county development rule updates was something the local business and development community encouraged, said Tyler Newman, president and CEO of Business Alliance for a Sound Economy. 

While the city and county have different needs based on state law, if the processes, procedures and rules can be as consistent as possible, "I think that's a big benefit to the whole area," Newman said.

A schedule included in the county's blueprint report shows an October goal for the tasks of gathering community input and drafting the new regulations, including districts and uses, development and subdivision design standards and administrative procedures.

Unlike the city, the county's update project will rely on a project technical committee, made up of county staff members, the chair of the planning board and representatives of other departments and agencies affected by the UDO, along with public outreach and involvement “to ensure that the final UDO meets the needs of New Hanover County,” the report says.

The city of Wilmington received its LSL blueprint report for revamped development rules last year.

“The city right now is in the process of evaluating proposed zoning districts, many of which would not change. If it ain’t broke, we’re not going to fix it. Particularly most of our residential districts don’t really require much change We’re primarily focused on our commercial districts, perhaps allowing for more mixed-use development, more pedestrian-oriented development, relying less on the automobile where we can,” said Glenn Harbeck, the city's director of planning, development and transportation.

Recently city officials have been working on purpose statements for zoning districts, Harbeck said. As the update proceeds, Harbeck said he expects the city and county will be trying to use similar terminology and zoning processes, if possible.

The county’s blueprint from LSL says, “While New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington are separate jurisdictions in local government terms, it can be easy to see how coordinated regulations and processes will help residents and the development community cross boundary lines to do good work in both communities. We will work with the City to coordinate definitions and terms as much as possible and look for both procedural and regulatory approaches in the code update process that can be used similarly in both communities.”

The report establishes whether the existing regulations help or hinder the county in accomplishing the goals of the Comprehensive Plan (Plan NHC), and identifies the necessary changes in order to implement Plan NHC, the county's news release said.

More public forums, workshops and hearings will be held throughout the UDO process, and the final project is anticipated to go before county commissioners during the summer next year, according to the release.
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