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County begrudgingly complies with state law, reducing power of planning board

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File photo of the county commission

A 2019 law called Chapter 160D has forced New Hanover County to amend its code, and county officials feel it has undermined the power of the planning board.

The rewritten code makes several changes around permitting and zoning, including the removal of conditional use districts from the zoning plan altogether.

But the biggest change is a new limit to the power of the planning board, which historically made recommendations to the Board of Commissioners whenever a developer sought a special use permit. With the mandated changes to the law, the planning board can no longer make such recommendations. Commissioner Rob Zapple bemoaned the change at the county meeting because it undercuts the planning board’s power.

“And even though we have this state law that was handed down to us, we fully anticipate that the business community and development community will continue to make use of this tremendous benefit we have and this asset that we have with the planning board.”

Applicants will still present to that group, but several commissioners worried they wouldn’t bring their “A-game” to the board once it loses its recommendation power. That might mean sloppy presentations and, perhaps, important details slipping through the cracks once a presentation makes it to the county commissioners.

But planning board vice chair Paul Boney said the county’s planning staff will be able to manage those problems. In the end, the commission unanimously passed the amendments despite their concerns, in order to comply with state law.