On Thursday, the New Hanover County Planning Board will hold another work session on Special Use Permit requirements and the revision of the SUP table of permitted uses. It’s their second such work session in a week.
Last week’s session, however, did not escape criticism.
“The work session of the planning board last week took over two hours and they only made two recommendations,” said Mike Giles, a coastal advocate with the N.C. Coastal Federation. The federation has proposed its own revisions for the SUP.
“While the improvements agreed upon [last week] will address the everyday industry and manufacturing, the board is missing the boat on a review process that staff, the planning board and our county commissioners need to adequately review those few intensive industries that have the potential to negatively impact our community, public health, natural resources and our economy,” Giles said after last week’s work session.
“The charge from the county commission was to improve the industrial Special Use Permit process. That is not what is happening,” Giles explained. “What is happening is the development of a process that benefits a few and the expense of us all and will not prevent another potential Titan or coal ash groundwater contamination or more Superfund site taxpayers will be on the hook for.”
On Wednesday, the Coastal Federation sent out a notice reviewing County Commissioner Rob Zapple's recommendations for the SUP, which the federation supports. These included:
- A required community information meeting (CIM) for certain heavy industries prior to the Planning Board public hearing
- A sensible checklist/project assessment report and extended timeline review for those few intensive industries to identify external impacts and how those impacts will be addressed to help staff, planning board, and commissioners make informed decisions on the appropriateness of that industry in our County.
- Consideration of a "Prohibited" category for a very limited number of heavy industry uses with the greatest potential for significant external effects on adjacent properties and the surrounding community.
The SUP has been debated for several years now.
In 2014, amendments were proposed to the SUP that would have added more clarity to the application and permitting process. These amendments ultimately failed in a 2-2 vote by the county commissioners. In 2011, county commissioners approved a special use permit ordinance that replaced an outdated 1969 policy. Those 2011 changes have been an issue ever since.
A special use permit is required for any development that might be compatible with a zone in which it wishes to locate, but requires special consideration of its potential impacts on the surrounding area.
Wilmington Business Development CEO Scott Satterfield told the Business Journal recently that the county would never put the environment at risk with a poorly drafted SUP.
“Effective stewardship of our economy, by its very logic, includes being vigilant about environmental impact,” Satterfield said two weeks ago. “Quality of life is integral to our region’s appeal as a business destination, and our environment is central to that quality of life. Why would a community devalue one of its major selling points? With or without an SUP, that’s not who we are.”
Four months ago, county commissioners instructed planning staff to draft changes to the special use permit “to give our property owners and prospective businesses a clear expectation of what is necessary for a smooth and expedient permitting process in New Hanover County.”
Thursday’s work session is open to the public, and begins at 3:00 p.m. in the Finance Conference Room 500 of the New Hanover County Government Center, 230 Government Center Drive in Wilmington.