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Real Estate - Residential

Developer, Residents At A Crossroads In Midtown Wilmington

By Cece Nunn, posted Jun 1, 2023
A conceptual renderings shows townhomes and a mixed-use building with 18 units that has been envisioned by a developer for land on Independence Boulevard. (Rendering courtesy of PBC Design + Build)

Some of the last undeveloped acres in midtown Wilmington are the subject of those roadside signs you see when you're driving around Independence Mall and Oleander Drive.

The “No Rezoning” signs with QRL codes (pictured below), planted by the group Save Midtown Neighborhoods, express opposition to a developer’s anticipated rezoning request.

Developer and custom homebuilder Dave Spetrino of Wilmington-based PBC Design + Build has the land, about 20 acres off Independence Boulevard from Park Avenue to Canterbury Road, under contract with an anticipated closing on the purchase taking place this month. 

But his efforts to talk to neighbors about his wish to build a variety of housing there started taking place about a year ago, and he expects the conversation to continue next week. Spetrino said he decided to hold off on submitting his rezoning request (or at least the first of many related requests) to the city of Wilmington until the latest conversation takes place.

“The comprehensive plan was created specifically for infill sites like this,” Spetrino said in an email Thursday. “We have worked with the neighbors as well as city staff to bring forward ideas for development that provide a mix of housing options at a mix of income ranges and a new community that preserves the tree canopy while providing a transition between the adjacent commercial and the existing residential areas.”

According to Save Midtown Neighborhoods, rezoning the property from R-15, a designation that allows single-family homes, to R-5, which would allow townhomes and apartments, would be “irresponsible rezoning.” 

The group’s Facebook page lists several reasons for its opposition, including an increase in traffic.

“Rezoning this property to tremendously increase density will create substantially more congestion on our streets and pose a significant threat to the health and safety of our children and neighbors when biking, walking, jogging, driving and the like,” the page states.

On Facebook and in a petition on Change.org, the residents also cite concerns about the destruction of trees and greenspace, as well as what they describe as the area’s infrastructure inadequacies.

“Improvements to our infrastructure including streets, sidewalks, stormwater management and public school capacity are not in place and do not exist at any sufficient levels to keep up with the pace of high-density rezoning and development for this particular tract,” the page and petition state.

Spetrino said he doesn't want to be a bad neighbor and he understands the residents' concerns. "But at the same time, the city – and I don't mean the city as in that neighborhood; I mean, the city as in the entire area – needs housing in areas that are centrally located."

Building a single-family brick Colonial home at the corner of Independence Boulevard and Oleander Drive across from the Bank of America branch "is not logical," he said.

To Spetrino, building townhomes, like those he included on conceptual drawings presented in community meetings, makes more sense for that kind of location.

He said, "I wanted to do the townhomes because ... I can get a lot of square footage and they're small footprints. I can save the trees and I can get different price points. So in a single [development] of townhomes I could have a $100,000 difference in price point, which is something you don't see in typical neighborhoods. And that was what I was thinking of for that site."

Spetrino said he sees a mix of housing as having a positive impact on traffic.

"If we're not continuing to develop housing, especially where it reduces traffic as people are closer to services or closer to work, or increases density where you want that density, which is on those arterial roads, it's kind of – I understand it, but it's still kind of frustrating," he said.

Robert Keith of Save Midtown Neighborhoods said in an email May 26 that Spetrino “has shared publicly some conceptual drawings but at this point we do not know the final plans. He has indicated in the near future he plans to file a rezoning request with the city to allow a much higher density development for this parcel. In the meantime, our group will continue to build city-wide support of citizens opposing this project.”

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