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Planning Board Recommends Changes to SUP Application Process--Including More Public Hearings

Industrial businesses looking to call New Hanover County home may soon be required to hold public meetings as part of the special use permit -- or SUP – process. And the SUP is what they need to launch or expand operations. This is one among several changes that the county planning board unanimously recommended at last night’s public hearing on the most recent SUP draft—an update of a version that was tabled in January. And community stakeholders on both sides of the issue—business leaders and environmental advocates—say this new draft presents a compromise they can live with.

According to new recommendations, county planning staff will get more time to review SUP requests, and planning and county commission board members reserve the right to demand additional information—such as soil or groundwater reports—from applicants. Businesses will also be required to post their SUP applications online—and email those documents to county stakeholders. Hal Kitchin, former chairman of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, says the community can only benefit from learning more about proposed projects.

"I think what you’ll find is, the more the public gets involved, the more they’ll learn, and sometimes—if it’s a good project—the more they’ll get on the side of the business."

Mike Giles of the North Carolina Coastal Federation notes that the onus is now on the public to bring forth community issues. He adds that the county’s new comprehensive plan—a long-term public engagement initiative—could change the course of the SUP application.

"Those processes are going to provide the first look—a long-overdue look—at our entire zoning ordinance. Not just the special use permitting process but our entire zoning ordinance, and how we recruit, how we grow, and how we prosper."

The draft is slated to go before the final decision-makers--New Hanover County’s commissioners--at their April board meeting.