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Development Rules Overhaul Gains Traction

By Cece Nunn, posted May 5, 2017
New Hanover County’s current development ordinances go back nearly 50 years, with piecemeal changes along the way.

As it stands, the code is too ambiguous and subjective, a consultant told county officials at a recent meeting, as the county works to adopt a modern Unified Development Ordinance.

“We’ve just been trying to respond to issues and projects and things as they come along until it’s evolved in this manner that it is today, which is just not meeting our needs currently,” said Donna Girardot, chairwoman of the New Hanover County Planning Board.

The planning board met recently in a joint work session on the UDO and a draft blueprint report on the UDO that was produced by LSL Planning. The county hired Thomas & Hutton Engineering and LSL Planning, the same firm the city hired to consult on its Land Development Code.

“The existing ordinance has served us reasonably well for many years because we made minor updates along the way. However, it is still too restrictive for good development in New Hanover County,” said Cindee Wolf, of Design Solutions, who represents numerous developers and businesses in their requests related to new projects in New Hanover County, said about the current county code.

By “good development,” Wolf said she means those projects that want to use more modern standards for design in the county’s continued growth.

LSL’s report said the aim is to do just that, according to the draft blueprint.

“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.”

Girardot is serving on a county technical committee that will meet regularly and come up with recommendations based on the consultant’s suggestions. Those recommendations will go to stakeholder groups and the public for input, she said.

“One of the biggest takeaways from yesterday’s [April 27] work session for me was the consultant’s recommendation that we move from a use-based to a structure-based code,” Girardot said.

“When you think about it, this is a major change, and it has the potential to significantly impact our future development, and I think people need to pay attention to that. I think they have to be prepared for that as we move forward if that’s the direction.”

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.

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