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County's New Planning Director Shares His Take On Future Growth

By Cece Nunn, posted Oct 2, 2017
Wayne Clark, shown on the steps of the New Hanover Historic Courthouse, started in his role as New Hanover County's new planning director last week. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
Wayne Clark’s roots run deep in the Wilmington area, and even after he left his planning leadership role with the Port City for a job in Florida more than decade ago, he and his family traveled back here nearly every summer to visit friends.

So when Clark found out the job of New Hanover County planning director was open, he applied.

Clark started his new position Sept. 26, becoming New Hanover’s planning director in the midst of a major overhaul of development regulations that date back to the 1960s.

He was drawn to return to the area, he said during a media meet-and-greet session Monday morning at the New Hanover Historic Courthouse, because of the county’s diversity, an area that includes a historic downtown, pre- and post-World War II neighborhoods, and rural and urban segments.

“Anything you’ve ever thought you could be part of, building a future of a community, exists in this area, at a scale that’s more manageable than say a Manhattan or Long Island or somewhere like that,” Clark said.

Consultants hired to review the county's current rules could be delivering their recommendations on the county’s zoning districts and the uses that could or should be allowed in them by the end of this fall, as county officials work to develop a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), Clark said Monday.

As Wilmington’s director of development services and planning manager more than a decade ago, Clark was part of the effort to write an ordinance that enabled developers to bring Mayfaire into existence. Mixed-use developments that allow people to live, work, shop, dine and find entertainment in close proximity will likely be part of the numerous UDO conversations ahead for New Hanover, Clark said.

“If you’ve got a long-range plan that says we want this area to have a mixture of uses but your zoning districts don’t allow uses that mix, then you’ve got a problem,” he said. Clark also said, "You can't make everything mixed-use. . . If you happen to have a hardware store on Carolina Beach Road, people aren’t going to want to live above the hardware store so there is some limit to what mixed-use can do."

Whatever changes might take place in the county’s development regulations aren’t likely to have a major impact on individual homeowners but probably be more relevant to potential commercial development in the unincorporated areas of the county, Clark said.

He said he’s been able to sense, from keeping up with current events, that there’s still a lot of concern about what anticipated growth is going to mean to the future of the community.

County officials already have a vision for that future, Clark said.

“I get the good fortune of taking on this experience but being able to make sure that that vision gets done,” he said. “It’s kind of like being a combination of architect and contractor for the county as a whole. Here’s what we want to look like 20 years from now.”

County leaders say his previous experience in the area will be valuable moving forward.

“I had the pleasure of working with Wayne when he was the City’s Planning Director and I’m looking forward to working with him once again. Not only does Wayne bring years of extensive planning experience and knowledge with him but he knows our community, its culture and its values,” said Donna Girardot, chairwoman of the New Hanover County Planning Board. “There should be very little time getting him ‘up-to-speed.’ He should be able to hit the ground running. I am especially looking forward to having his review and analysis of our recently adopted Comprehensive Plan and Special Use Permit (SUP), in the hope that he can identify any inconsistencies, holes that may need to be filled or potential problematic areas before we begin the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) drafting and adoption process.”

Clark replaces Chris O'Keefe, who after 11 years as planning director and 27 years as a county employee retired at the end of July. Clark has nearly 30 years of planning and community development experience and is a certified planner through the American Planning Association’s American Institute of Certified Planners.

He was the development services director and planning manager for the city of Wilmington for eight years, and since 2007, had mainly served as the community development director for the city of Port Orange, Florida.
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