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New Hanover County Commissioners Disagree Over Comprehensive Plan's Exceptional Resource Areas Map

New Hanover County Planning Department
Plan NHC: "The Exceptional Resource Area Map identifies environmental and flood hazard areas that are governed by North Carolina. The delineation of these areas are to be used in conjunction with the Future Land Use Map and aid in development."

At this week’s New Hanover County Commissioners meeting, the planning department presented the final version of the future land use map.  That’s the fourth chapter of the County’s Comprehensive Plan.  But the discussion turned contentious over a complementary map that outlines environmental resources. 

The exceptional resource areas map is an overlay of sorts – it supplements the proposed Future Land Use Map by outlining various environmental resources.  Rather than banning development in these regions or instituting requirements, the extra map makes development suggestions.  For instance, heavy industry would not be ideal in an aquifer recharge area, but a home developer who uses best practices would fit the bill.

Jennifer Rigby, the Comprehensive Plan’s Project Manager, says this will help developers by identifying challenges in advance:

"Predictability is one of the things that developers always tell us, they want to make sure that development is predictable, and that we are predictable in what we’re asking of them.  And showing these features on the map is a way to ensure predictability, that these areas may need further research and due diligence."

She also says these recommendations will help the new plan meet Coastal Area Management Act regulations.  But Commissioner Woody White says those requirements will soon change:

"If our staff believes that CAMA would not approve it, I understand that, but understanding how CAMA is undergoing significant relaxing of a lot of definitions and rules and regulations, for our staff to still have that opinion and suggest that we designate this as an exceptional resource area need, right now, I’m not comfortable doing that."

The commissioners say they expect an update to CAMA this summer. Ultimately, Vice Chair Jonathan Barfield moved to table the item until the Planning Board can meet to discuss potential changes to the legislation.