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New Hanover County Commissioners Approve New SUP

Vince Winkel
A full house was on hand as the New Hanover County Commissioners approved the new Special Use Permit.

On Monday the New Hanover County Commissioners unanimously approved a new Special Use Permit or SUP. The permit is required of certain industries if they wish to build a facility in the county. The vote came after a year of work by county staff and the planning board, concerned citizens and business leaders.   

The road to a new Special Use Permit was long and arduous, involving public meetings, public work sessions, planning board discussions and more than a few rewrites. But after 20 residents spoke out at Monday’s county commissioners meeting against the S-U-P, the board voted in favor of approval.  

County commissioner Patricia Kusek:   

“It has been a long road, and it is very important for everyone in the community that we are all on the same team. We love this place, but we have to be able to have a clear path to attract the right kind of business and industry here. If we don’t plan for it, things are going to just collapse around us and we cannot do that. We all want a process in place so we can get the right kind of business and industry here and the special use permit will allow us to do that.”

The permit guidelines were put in place in 2011, and have been a topic of discussion ever since. A year ago, the commissioners charged county planning staff with revising it.

The revisions include amendments to clarify the ordinance’s language, and a reworking of the table of permitted uses. That table defines which types of industries will need a special use permit.

Business leaders in the area wanted an SUP that would not be too restrictive, and scare away potential industry. Others were concerned a less restrictive SUP could result in unwanted industry, and environmental issues.

Commissioner Rob Zapple says there is still work to be done.

“It’s not really wrapped up. What we are doing is moving on to the next phase. This is a series of steps that have been happening that started literally 10 years ago, certainly for the last year and a half to two years we’ve had a series of meetings involving the public and every sector of our community.”

Zapple says the next step in the process is the Unified Development Ordinance, or UDO. He says this will identify those areas in the community that are inappropriately zoned.

“Remember a lot of this zoning was first designated back in the late 60s and early 70s, and what’s happened since then is other development has grown up around it.”

County commissioner Jonathan Barfield:

“I’m looking forward to the next step in the process which is coming up with the UDO, and looking at how do we move forward and also have a public input into our next codes to make sure this is a true community process as it has been for the last three or so years.”

Unified development ordinance is a term you’ll start hearing a lot of beginning in April, when New Hanover County begins its work on that code.  

The UDO will be used for the county’s revised land development regulations, which will integrate ordinances that are currently separate.

Mike Giles of the North Carolina Coastal Federation had been a critic of the revised SUP, but last month helped forge a compromise with business interests like the Wilmington Chamber, to move forward.

“The SUP is very complex, it’s very controversial, but now we’ve got a process we can work on through the UDO. There are weaknesses, it’s not perfect, but we have it we can move forward with the UDO process, we can move forward and not have this argument like we’ve had for the past four years.”