A marketing photo from Navassa property owners shows the Cape Fear River and land that could hold homes and businesses in the future. (Photo courtesy of Intracoastal Realty)
The upcoming completion of the Interstate 140 Wilmington Bypass begins a new chapter in the commercial and residential development of northern Brunswick County, according to Christopher Rogers and others whose companies own property in the area.
Rogers’ firm, Lincoln Development Company Inc., has about 350 acres of holdings in Navassa.
Of the undeveloped land in the town, whose origins date back to the 1870s, Rogers said, “It’s been sitting there for so long, and it never was that far away from Wilmington. It’s going to get noticed even more before the bypass opens so it has a lot of potential.”
Rogers said Navassa has identical characteristics to the 4,000- acre, award-winning community of Daniel Island in Charleston, South Carolina, including direct access to an interstate, properties along coastal estuaries and proximity to a historical downtown.
“Lincoln has interested parties for mixed-use commercial and residential projects, and we are talking with developers that have the ability and vision to create distinctive projects,” Rogers said of his company’s land.
The last portion of the I-140 bypass, a project that is connecting U.S. 17 in Brunswick County to U.S. 17 in New Hanover County, is expected to be finished by November and is also having an impact on two planned unit developments that have been in the works for several years – the nearly 900-acre River Bend at Cedar Hill owned by Wilmington River Club and the 1,000-acre Indian Creek development owned by Mulberry Land Company LLC.
River Bend is permitted to hold up to 2,199 homes, while Indian Creek could hold more than 3,600 residential units.
Wilmington River Club, a partnership of 12 investors that bought the land for River Bend about 10 years ago, has hired land planner Scott Stewart to design the community’s 35-acre commercial portion, developers said recently.
Stewart, a landscape architect, developer and builder, has helped shape award-winning communities in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.
“Now that we’re getting to the point where the development activity appears to be imminent in the next year, we wanted to clean that plan up and put the pieces together for potential uses,” Jon T. Vincent, managing partner in Wilmington River Club, said of the commercial portion of River Bend.
He believes the order of uses for the commercial site could be a convenience store with fueling stations first, then some restaurant pads and a retail center anchored by a grocery store, followed by a hotel.
Jim Wallace, another partner in Wilmington River Club, who is also founder and CEO of Intracoastal Realty, said interest in the residential portions of the property has been on the rise.
“We’ve had quite a few people we’re talking to. We haven’t made any decisions yet, but our plans are to sell partials, tracts of land, to developers to develop the residential portions,” Wallace said.
Plans for Indian Creek, a few miles down Cedar Hill Road in Navassa from the River Bend land, are also progressing.
“We anticipate finishing the planning and engineering up this year and starting the improvements in the first part of next year,” said Steven Maccurry, one of the managing members of Mulberry Land Company.
In Indian Creek, 2,200 of the residential units would be single-family homes, Maccurry said, while the balance could be apartments and townhomes. His company plans to develop the infrastructure and then sell land to homebuilders.
Maccurry said he foresees Indian Creek having a major effect on the future of northern Brunswick County and Wilmington.
“When the bypass is open, you’re six or seven minutes from downtown Wilmington,” he said. “It’s really remarkable. Until you get there and get your feet on the ground, it’s hard to believe it’s that close to Wilmington.”
Navassa town officials are banking on the road, and the subsequent development of Indian Creek and River Bend, to bring more economic development to a community of just under 2,000 residents.
“That’s what we’re interested in, that’s what we’re looking at and that’s what we’re hoping the new road will bring – some new jobs and give us a few more options for the permanent residents that we’ve got here,” longtime Navassa Mayor Eulis Willis said.
Willis said upcoming development in Navassa underscores the need for the town to increase its planning staff, which now consists mainly of one person working part time.
“I can’t afford to not have one, with the way these guys are knocking on the doors around here, developers and anybody that thought they had a piece of ground in Navassa,” Willis said.
Willis said in May that town officials plan to advertise for a full-time planning director.
While commercial development is expected to come sooner than homes, at least to areas around the bypass interchanges, Realtors are looking forward to the possibility of new housing inventory coming to the area, where lots for new homes in some cases can be cheaper than those in New Hanover County.
Like New Hanover, Pender and northern Brunswick counties, home sale indicators in all of Brunswick have continued this year on a positive path, according to the latest statistics.
“The number of units sold, average sales price and total sales volume all rose, while new listings are down. The market is hot in Brunswick County as a whole, and the hottest areas are Leland, Southport, Oak Island and Carolina Shores,” said Brunswick County Association of Realtors CEO Cynthia Walsh, in a release about April’s home sales numbers.
One of Navassa’s neighbors, the town of Leland, “is growing extremely fast,” said Tim Milam, president of Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage.
“There’s a lot of people retiring and moving into the Leland area, and there’s more and more business being generated in Leland,” he said.
The same could happen to Navassa, where land isn’t as scarce as it is in New Hanover County. But homes might fall in the more affordable, $250,000-and-under price ranges, Milam said.
“I think Navassa is a beautiful area, but it’s not been developed yet like it could be,” he said. “I think you’re going to have developers and builders saying we can provide that product in Navassa because the land prices should allow them to do that.”
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