A request by residents to rezone the Echo Farms golf course property against the owner’s wishes will be considered by the city’s Planning Commission at an upcoming meeting, Wilmington officials said Friday.
The decision to allow the request to move forward comes after the city attorney’s office and City Manager Sterling Cheatham reviewed the rezoning application and determined that it is valid. Such requests from people who don't own or plan to own the property are unusual, city officials have said.
“Based on our review, I am directing the Planning Department to proceed with the application,” says a letter dated Dec. 5 and signed by Cheatham, addressed to an attorney for the Echo Farms golf course owner.
Although agendas and meeting schedules are always subject to potential changes, the matter could be considered by Wilmington's planning panel next month.
“The application was received, and we’re going to process it like any other application with the manager’s direction, and most likely it would be coming forward to the planning commission in January,” said Glenn Harbeck, director of planning, development and transportation for the city of Wilmington.
Joe Taylor, CEO of Echo Farms developer and golf course owner Matrix Development Group, said company officials are disappointed that the rezoning request could be filed in the first place.
“We think it is inappropriate that the city would accept such an application, and we think that this is a fundamental property rights issue," Taylor said Friday. “We’re going to defend our rights.”
Harbeck said under the city’s development code, the city can accept rezoning applications from interested parties, and those interested parties don’t legally have to be the owner of the property. City officials are obligated to process any valid applications, but the determination that the application is valid doesn’t mean it will be approved or disapproved, Harbeck explained.
Echo Farms residents filed the rezoning request in October asking that the city change the zoning designation of about 140 acres at 4114 Echo Farms Blvd. off Carolina Beach Road from multi-family residential medium density to R-15 residential. The change would mean the difference between allowing 17 units per acre and being able to build only three single-family units per acre.
Subsequently, Matrix Development Group officially submitted a site plan last week to the city of Wilmington that replaces the Echo Farms golf course with new homes and new recreation areas. The plan for The Woodlands at Echo Farms calls for 171 single family homes, 125 townhomes and 240 multi-family units, according to a fact sheet from Matrix.
The existing approved zoning for the Echo Farms land involved, about 102 acres, allows for the development of 1,779 new homes, but the current Matrix plan only calls for 536 new residences, Matrix officials said last week.
“We think we have the merits on our side, and we’ll react to in due course to the letter that was sent out by Mr. Cheatham. And in the meantime we’ve submitted a plan that is well, well under in density what we’re permitted for,” Taylor said.
He said that while he believes the rezoning request filed by residents is without merit, “I understand the passion that residents have. These are changes, and I understand. I’m not without some sympathy for how people feel about change and how people feel about something new happening nearby. That said, we have come up with a plan that mitigates traffic, that’s well below what we could have applied for” and includes enhancements to the pool, tennis and recreational facilities in the neighborhood.
He said Matrix officials plan to meet with Echo Farms residents.
“We’ll be coming down to Wilmington shortly after the holiday to engage with a variety of different residents’ groups,” Taylor said.
Matrix's site plans for the golf course property are expected to be reviewed by Dec. 22 by the city's Technical Review Committee and Jan. 18 by the Wilmington Subdivision Review Board. The next Wilmington Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 4, according to the city's website.
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