Infill, Residential Density Guidelines Open For Public Comment

By Emma Dill, posted May 9, 2024
New Hanover County’s updated residential density and infill guidelines are open for public comment.

The guidelines aim to articulate the county's existing policies and to provide members of the planning board and board of commissioners with tools they can use when considering rezonings and special use permits.

“The goal of this is to provide you with a tool to use when considering rezoning amendments right away while the comprehensive plan is being updated over the course of the next year and a half,” Amy Doss, a New Hanover County development review planner, told the New Hanover County Planning Board last week.

New Hanover County is in the process of updating its existing comprehensive plan, a planning document that helps guide long-term land use in unincorporated areas of the county. The update is expected to wrap up in late 2025.

County staff have “fast-tracked” several comprehensive plan amendments, including revisions to development guidelines on the western bank of the Cape Fear River, a bicycle and pedestrian plan and the residential density and infill guidelines.

New Hanover County released the density and infill guidelines for public comment following last week’s planning board meeting. The public comment period runs through 8 a.m. on May 27. A public hearing on the guidelines will be held at the planning board's June meeting and will go before the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in July, Doss said.

The guidelines focus on “articulating and clarifying existing policy interpretations and recommendations” around residential density and also outline recommended “transitional design elements” between high-density uses and existing neighborhoods.

The plan notes that much of New Hanover County’s existing development pattern is “low density and makes less efficient use of land resources” because it was developed before water and sewer utilities were available.

“This plan envisions a more efficient development pattern, which means that the density of new infill projects may be different from the development pattern of the surrounding community,” the plan states.

A graphic included in the plan shows that lower-density projects are appropriate where water and sewer aren’t available, in areas with limited vehicle access, near floodplain hazards and in sensitive environmental areas. Higher density development, in contrast, is appropriate in areas near commercial centers, public transit and public spaces and new or planned water and sewer or roadway improvements.

The plan also encourages “higher-intensity, mixed-use and commercial developments,” which could make buffers between new development and existing neighborhoods increasingly important. Land use elements, building height, connectivity, landscaping, roadways and private drives and accessory landscape elements are identified in the plan as appropriate buffers between developments.

Following Doss's presentation, some planning board members said they appreciated staff efforts to provide additional guidelines. 

“This effort will be beneficial as we look at all the rezoning requests we’re getting for increased housing, increased density,” planning board member Clark Hipp said. “This is a good effort to put tools in front of us to help us make those decisions.”
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