At least 60 individuals attended Thursday evening’s public hearing on Special Use Permits (SUP) with the New Hanover County Planning Board at the downtown county courthouse.
When Planning Board Chairwoman Donna Girardot finally closed the meeting after more than a dozen interested parties spoke, the message was clear: We have more work to do.
Since March, County Planning Director Chris O’Keefe and his staff, at the behest of the planning board and county commissioners, have been reworking special use permit requirements and guidelines.
A special use permit allows a landowner to use a tract in a way that does not fall directly under the permitted usage for that specifically zoned area.
Critics of the county industrial SUP ordinance point to its lack of a definitive timeline for the permitting process and specifics for what a business has to provide to receive such a permit.
In 2014, amendments were proposed to the SUP aimed at adding more clarity to the application and permitting process. Those amendments failed in a 2-2 vote by the county commissioners.
Last night’s meeting featured several proponents of the N.C. Coastal Federation and its suggested amendments
to the SUP, which is featured in what it calls a Model Industrial SUP. Last year the Coastal Federation created a community task force and hired a consultant to develop a revised version of the SUP.
Others suggested it was time to go back to the drawing board.
“We encourage you to step back, work a bit harder and make sure we get it right,” said Peter Fensel, president of the Coalition for Economic Advancement. “Come back with a document that satisfies everybody,” he told the Planning Board.
Earlier Thursday, in a letter from Fensel and other economic leaders addressed to the board, it was stressed that this is a complex issue not to be taken lightly. The statement also was signed by representatives from the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association, Wilmington Business Development and Business Alliance for a Sound Economy, a coalition of groups that recently criticized
the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors' proposed positions about the SUP.
“If the Special Use Permit (SUP) issue is to be discussed, we are only in favor of changes which will streamline and provide certainty to the permitting process, support existing business and grow new jobs in our community,” Thursday's letter from the business groups stated. “We encourage your thoughtful deliberations on this complex issue. Changes to the Special Use Permit will impact hundreds of properties in New Hanover County including churches, convenience stores, cell towers, mobile homes and day cares. Rushing through this process will lead to bad public policy.” Read the full letter here
Former Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Chairman Hal Kitchin also stated that more work needs to be done.
“I support the [county] staff on this, but it needs significant improvement,” Kitchin told the planning board. “It needs another work session … it’s not ready for a vote.”
The five-member board unanimously agreed.
“There is a lot of deliberation ahead of us,” Girardot said. “I don’t feel ready to send anything to the commissioners for a vote."
Added board member Ernest Olds, “There is so much more we need to talk about. There is more work that needs to be done.”
Girardot assigned O’Keefe and his staff the task of coming up with the key components that need to be tackled. She also encouraged them to look at the Coastal Federation proposal and the 2014 county staff version that was not passed by the commissioners.
It appears certain the commissioners will not vote on a revised SUP before the November election, and it’s possible a vote will not come before the new calendar year. Meanwhile, more work sessions will be scheduled.