It continues to be slow going for New Hanover County and its efforts to create a new Special Use Permit (SUP) process.
A two-hour planning board meeting Tuesday afternoon spent most of the session discussing the merits of a checklist in the planned revision of the county’s SUP language.
The current SUP language was adopted in 2011.
The process of revising the process has frustrated some of those involved.
“Yes, it is about jobs now and jobs for our kids in the future. It is also about providing a clear process for new business to invest and current businesses to expand in New Hanover County,” said Tyler Newman, president and CEO of Business Alliance for a Sound Economy.
“However, it is also an unnecessary debate to be having right now," he added. "The county just unanimously adopted a comprehensive plan, which sets the stage for the next 30 to 40 years of development and growth and hired a consultant to overhaul the development ordinances and zoning districts. Why make band-aid changes to one section – Special Use Permits – when the entire ordinance and zoning districts are being overhauled?”
In 2014, amendments were proposed to the SUP that would have added more clarity to the application and permitting process. Those amendments failed in a 2-2 vote by the county commissioners.
Since March of this year county planning staff has been working on revising the guidelines.
“From a public policy standpoint,” Newman said, “our preference is to follow the unanimously adopted comprehensive plan and try to fulfill its vision through updated ordinances, as opposed to piecemeal changes under an artificial time crunch.”
Meanwhile the N.C. Coastal Federation has been working on its own recommendations
for a revised version of the SUP.
“The Coastal Federation and thousands of citizens support smart economic growth as other progressive communities have,” said Mike Giles, a coastal advocate with the federation. “We can be choosy and should be so our natural community assets, our public health, our economy are not negatively affected by poor choices. What is driving some opposition to the specific improvements we have proposed is a legacy of large landowners who do not want any regulation affecting their ability to market large tracts of land for industrial use.
“After it was passed in 2011 almost everyone agreed it was too general and was a one-size-fits-all ordinance that actually deterred some industry that in actuality should not be subject to a SUP but did not provide the clarity, a general timeline for the process and whose requirements are vague and not specific enough."
Two weeks ago the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce chimed in on the SUP project
, commenting on both the county staff proposal and those of the Coastal Federation.
“The new version was made public on Monday afternoon, and Wilmington Chamber leadership is still reviewing that proposal to see if it accomplishes our goals for SUP revision,” said Mitch Lamm, chamber board chairman, in a news release Aug. 17. “The Chamber recommends that upcoming deliberations on this issue focus on the County staff’s new proposal. The North Carolina Coastal Federation’s campaign to build support for what they have dubbed the ‘model’ Special Use Permit (SUP) is not supported by the Wilmington Chamber.”
Many business advocates agree that the revised SUP process is necessary. Interim chamber president Dick Blouse said as much in a paid sponsor column posted on the Greater Wilmington Business Journal's website Aug. 25.
“Manufacturing provides an important employment base, especially for those without a college degree, and salaries are typically much higher than service jobs,” Blouse wrote. “Without adequate jobs for all, unemployment and crime rates rise and more tax money must be spent on providing social services. The lack of manufacturing jobs in Wilmington is a growing problem. In one decade – from 2002 to 2012 – New Hanover County lost nearly 2,000 manufacturing jobs, which accounted for 26 percent of our manufacturing base.”
"In general, there needs to be a good balance between economic development, job creation in the manufacturing sector, and protecting our environmental assets of water, air and overall quality of life," explained County Commissioner Woody White on Wednesday. "The present state of the SUP process does not strike the right balance. It causes our county to be de-selected from site selection companies and we lose opportunities that we never know about. The present SUP ordinance is cumbersome, and confusing and retards job creation. Virtually all parties agree that its hasty adoption in 2011 was a reaction to a cement plant's efforts to move here, and not the product of thoughtful community engagement and a comprehensive process. We know the mistakes of a hasty decision; why repeat them now, by forcing this conversation so close to an election?"
It remains unclear whether the New Hanover County commissioners will vote on the changes before the upcoming election. Three of the five commissioner slots are up for election in November.
Next up on the SUP process is the NHC Planning Board hosting a public hearing on Special Use changes, on Sept. 8. That session will be at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse, 24 N. Third. St. in Wilmington starting at 6 p.m.