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Business Groups Split Over SUP Recommendations

By Vince Winkel, posted Sep 2, 2016
A coalition of local economic groups has voiced their strong opposition to a Realtors association and its suggestions for the new Special Use Permit (SUP) process in New Hanover County.
 
In a letter dated Sept. 1 to the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors (WRAR), the five entities criticized WRAR's proposals as being opposed to business growth.
 
“The Wilmington Regional Association of REALTORS® taking a short-sighted, contrary position is detrimental to the efforts of the business community,” the letter stated. “We are in total disagreement with the proposed WRAR positions on the SUP, as outlined in the REALTOR® Land Use Memoranda dated August 31, 2016.”
 
The letter did not detail the WRAR specifics they object to, and WRAR officials as of 3 p.m. Friday had chosen not to release a copy of the Aug. 31 memo to the Business Journal or discuss the details of their proposals.

The joint position statement was signed by Mitch Lamm, chairman of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce; Heath Clark, president of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association; Brian Eckel, chairman of Business Alliance for a Sound Economy; Peter Fensel, president of the Coalition for Economic Advancement; and Scott Satterfield, CEO of Wilmington Business Development.
 
The letter continues stating “a complex Special Use Permitting process is a major deterrent to expanding business and future jobs. If changes to the Special Use Permit are put forth, our objective will be revisions which facilitate clarity and predictability in the process. We will continue to oppose any proposals which would make the permitting process more complicated, unclear or time consuming.”
 
The full letter can be viewed here.
 
For Eckel, co-founder of Cape Fear Commercial and chairman of Business Alliance for a Sound Economy, there is growing frustration.
 
“I am disappointed, because it appears that the WRAR has not been following protocol on how it makes public policy decisions,” Eckel said Friday. “These issues are big issues as we try to grow and diversify our local and regional economy. This is frustrating because as a small business owner and a member of the WRAR I am trying to do my part to create jobs, which is why we need policy that encourages a diverse and growing business economy.”
 
The WRAR position on SUP, group officials said, is for the benefit of the entire community.
 
“The Wilmington Regional Association of REALTORS® has been an active stakeholder participating in the discussion regarding the New Hanover County Special Use Permit (SUP)," Don Harris, president of WRAR, said in emailed statement Friday. "As the major voice of real estate in Southeastern NC, for the betterment of our members, customers and community, we take pride in working in harmony with other business entities tasked with regional economic development.

“While we recognize that there are many voices and opinions, the WRAR is a benefactor of planned economic growth which provides our members the ability to help with the American Dream of Home Ownership and real estate investing," he continued. "The SUP is on the agenda for discussion by the Association's Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday, September 7th. The Association recognizes the importance of the SUP and is developing a position that best reflects our 2,350+ members, all of whom have an active stake in the well-being of our community.”
 
On Tuesday, the New Hanover County planning board held a working session on its proposed revision to the SUP process. The effort began in 2011, when the current SUP language was adopted. The county planning staff is charged with amending the SUP, which the planning board then reviews, and once they finish with it, send on to the county commissioners for approval.

In 2014, amendments were proposed to the SUP that would have added more clarity to the application and permitting process. However those amendments failed in a 2-2 vote by the county commissioners.
 
“The Wilmington chamber has stressed the importance of clarity and predictability in the Special Use Permit process since day one. The position currently taken by the WRAR will not create clarity and could create even more barriers to attracting good jobs to New Hanover County,” said Lamm, chamber board chairman, on Friday. “Rushing through this process to adopt another version of the SUP at a time when the county has hired a consultant to revise all of the land use codes doesn’t make sense. In addition, changes to the Table of Permitted Uses could have unintended consequences on properties throughout the county that haven’t thoroughly been vetted.”
 
Other business leaders are calling for unity in regards to the SUP.
 
“The leadership of the WCFHBA strongly believes that to foster residential and commercial growth, broaden our employer base and create jobs within New Hanover County, we must have a predictable, stable regulatory climate that does not preclude any type of business based upon predetermined notions,” said Clark, president of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association. “It is very critical for the business community to come together. Our associations and efforts are so similar; I don’t understand how we can be so far apart on this issue.”
 
Meanwhile the N.C. Coastal Federation has been working on its own recommendations for a revised version of the SUP.
 
A Special Use Permit is a common zoning tool used by local governments to consider proposals for new industry and manufacturing in an area, and its possible impact on the community.
 
It remains unclear when the New Hanover County commissioners will vote on the SUP changes, and if it will happen before the upcoming election. Three of the five commissioner slots are up for election in November.
 
The NHC Planning Board is 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
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