County Special Use Permit The Subject Of New Campaign

By Cece Nunn, posted Aug 12, 2016
Editor's note: This version updates the next steps expected for potential special use permit ordinance changes.

Potential changes to New Hanover County’s special use permit will be the subject of a new public relations campaign that kicks off next week in Wilmington.

Titled “My Community: My Voice,” the campaign is an effort by the N.C. Coastal Federation to encourage the adoption of the model industrial special use permit that was submitted to county officials several months ago, according to a news release from the federation.

A kickoff event for the campaign will be held 5:30-7 p.m. Aug. 17 at Ironclad Brewery, 115 N. Second St. in downtown Wilmington. “The campaign features leaders in public health, local businesses and conservation, voicing their support of the zoning tool, and encouraging residents and businesses in the area to urge its adoption,” the release said.

Campaign and community leaders will host the kickoff “to share details of the My Community: My Voice Campaign, present information about the Model Industrial SUP and encourage attendees to voice their support for the zoning rule changes,” according to the release.

One perspective on the SUP is that it provides a way for New Hanover County to control the kinds of industries that want to set up shop in the area, while another side says the SUP as it stands is too limiting and scares potential employers away.

Tyler Newman, president and CEO of Business Alliance for a Sound Economy, an advocacy organization founded in 2003 to encourage investment in the region, said he feels the new campaign will muddy the waters for economic development because a consultant to New Hanover County is already making recommendations to the county staff on potential SUP changes at the request of commissioners.

 “To have kind of a third-party, out-of-left-field effort seems unnecessarily confusing,” Newman said.

He pointed out that this year’s public policy of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, a BASE partner organization, states that the chamber will “oppose efforts that do not streamline the New Hanover County Special Use Permit process.”

“Protecting our coastal environments and clean, plentiful water supplies is critical to sound economic growth in the region,” said Mike Giles, the N.C. Coastal Federation's coastal advocate in the southeast region, in the news release. “We look to our county leadership to adopt the Model Industrial SUP, which will allow the community and leaders to vet our potential industrial neighbors, and approve those that align with our shared community vision for quality of life and increased prosperity.”

The federation led efforts to work with independent planning consultants, stakeholders and county staff to rectify business and community concerns to develop the proposed Model Industrial SUP, the news release said.

Clarity has been one of the main complaints from those who have advocated abolishing or changing the ordinance as it is currently written.

“I think everybody recognizes the need for a revision of the special use permit, and by 'everybody,' I mean everybody – from the chamber to the development community to the commissioners to the Coastal Federation,” said County Commissioner Rob Zapple, who will be one of the officials to provide comments at the campaign kickoff event.  

Zapple said he is not planning to be there to advocate for what the Coastal Federation wants out of a potential SUP revision but rather because he appreciates the Coastal Federation’s efforts to include the business community and others in a conversation about what changes might help.

“I applaud them for taking a very complex issue and reaching out and trying to provide the platform for a full discussion,” Zapple said.

LSL Planning, the consulting company conducting New Hanover County’s Unified Development Ordinance update process, prepared a review of the county's current SUP that was recently given to county officials. The company also prepared recommendations on a proposed table of permitted uses, or TOPU, which lists zones and the industries permitted there with and without a special use permit.

The next step is a public work session from 3 to 5 p.m. Aug. 30, in the Lucie Harrell Conference Room, 230 Government Center Drive, during which county officials will consider the consultant's recommendations along with staff comments regarding those recommendations. After that, the New Hanover County Planning Board might decide to place the SUP proposal on its Sept. 8 regular meeting agenda, said Ruth Smith, county spokeswoman.
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