After a city staff report called a proposed development's Military Cutoff Road site "the wrong location" because of traffic concerns, a Greensboro-based firm has decided to hold off until November on seeking a needed rezoning and special use permit for now.
The Carroll Companies has been working for two years on a plan that could bring a $70 million Westin hotel and conference center, along with luxury apartments, boutique stores and offices, to 44 acres on Military Cutoff Road, in a project called The Avenue.
A statement from The Carroll Companies on Wednesday doesn't mean the project is dead. The firm didn't withdraw its requests for the rezoning and SUP, which are on the agenda for tonight's Wilmington Planning Commission meeting, but rather said The Carroll Companies would seek a continuance to address parts of the city staff's report and give the city more time "to consider the project."
"We were extremely disappointed with the city staff report issued in connection with our proposed $200,000,000 mixed-use project located along Military Cutoff Road," Carroll Companies officials said in an email Wednesday morning. "As we developed this project, which includes a five-star hotel conference center, world-class spa and upscale dining and retail, we felt that we had support from the city of Wilmington and that our plan was a great fit with the city’s comprehensive plan and the guidelines of the [urban mixed-use] UMX zoning designation. Unfortunately, the report that was issued by the city included numerous inaccuracies and material omissions that must be addressed with the city prior to moving forward with the requested rezoning and special use permit. As a result, we have requested a continuance from the city of Wilmington for our case."
The statement also said, "We are hopeful that the city, with additional time to consider the project and the incredible economic impact it will have on the area, will realize the benefits of our project, and we will have a positive resolution when our case is heard later this year."
Through Nexsen Pruet land use lawyer Thomas Johnson Jr. in a letter dated July 10, The Carroll Companies notified Planning Commission Chairwoman Deb Hays and Jeff Walton, associate planner for the city of Wilmington, about its intention to seek a continuance on the SUP and rezoning requests until the commission's November meeting.
Released last week, the city staff's report on The Avenue
, produced in advance of the Wilmington Planning Commission meeting at 6 p.m. tonight, says, "In sum, the proposal is a major destination-type project in the wrong location with insufficient road system connectivity to distribute the heavy traffic volumes generated by the development."
The report said the project would create a 40 percent increase in traffic "on a critical, already heavily congested major thoroughfare." Other parts of the report are more favorable toward the project, including its design.
"Materials submitted with the application indicate that the buildings planned under the proposal would be of strong visual character, with equally attractive signage and lighting," the report said.
Roy Carroll, CEO, founder and president of Greensboro-based The Carroll Companies, said in a Greater Wilmington Business Journal story last week
that the staff report took him by surprise. As the sole backer of The Avenue, he said, he's already invested $10 million in the development, including buying more than 30 acres
of the 44-acre project for more than $4 million last year.
"I can tell you that the concept we showed staff two years ago is not one square foot larger then the concept we’re talking about today, and staff encouraged us to dense up the site," Carroll said in an interview Friday. "We’re not doing anything that we weren’t encouraged for a year and a half or more to do."
Tyler Newman, president and CEO of Business Alliance for a Sound Economy, said The Avenue project highlights what could be an ongoing development hurdle in a growing city.
"The community spent a tremendous amount of time working on a comprehensive plan that encourages exactly this type of mixed use investment," Newman said in an email Wednesday. "This issue shines a light on the transportation planning challenges that will face all future projects in our area. It is important to remember that projects like this will actually design and add facilities and capacity to the transportation infrastructure. Hopefully there's still time for the developers to work with staff to address concerns. I'd hate to have to learn the hard way how much strain you can put on a potential project before it goes elsewhere."
Walton said the city plans to schedule additional meetings with Carroll Companies officials before the November meeting of the Planning Commission to discuss the issues the firm has with the staff report and whatever else they want to discuss related to the proposal.