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Developers eye major project on western Cape Fear banks, some say flood risk makes it a bad idea

cape_fear_river_tuesday.jpg
Vince Winkel
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WHQR

New Hanover County planning officials are considering creating a new zoning district on Point Peter, a strip of land across the Cape Fear River from downtown Wilmington. In a presentation held Tuesday, local experts weighed in on why the zoning district would be catastrophic with current flooding trends.

Developers want the new zoning district in order to make way for a $500 million project on the banks of the Cape Fear River. The region is flood-prone, and according to both Drs. Bob Parr and Rob Young, the Riverfront Urban Mixed-Use Zoning is not a good idea.

Related — ‘This will be a gamechanger’: No movement on aggressive proposal for across-the-river development (Port City Daily)

Parr is a doctor of emergency and family medicine in Wilmington, who was a biological oceanographer before going to medical school. During the presentation, hosted by the North Carolina Coastal Federation, Parr laid out the history of Peter’s Point and downtown Wilmington. Taking a look at an elevation map, most of downtown appears to be red, and yellow — representing the raised area where building took place away from flooding, for example along Third Avenue where Thalian Hall and the historic courthouse were built. But the city's riverfront, especially Water Street, appears in blue — meaning it's at a lower elevation and highly flood-prone, just like across the river.

Elevation map of Wilmington.JPG
Topographic-Map.com
Elevation map of Wilmington NC: High to low points represented by the red-to-blue spectrum. The river is at 14 feet above sea level, some parts of the riverfront downtown are just 3 to 10 feet above this. The western bank of the Cape Fear River is even lower.

Looking into the history of the Point Peter region, there haven’t been massive developments there, Parr noted, saying that’s because this area is prone to serious flooding. The North Carolina coast is drowning, he said.

Last month, when the new zoning district was first proposed, developers said they were prepared to build up the area to help deal with flooding.

But, Rob Young, professor of geology at Western Carolina, argues any measures taken to mitigate flooding, like walling off areas of the development, could potentially disrupt the flow of the Cape Fear River, he said. These types of actions can affect those living adjacent to the development, including those across the river in Wilmington.

Young wrapped up his thoughts by saying: “First do no more harm, right? I mean, we have great concerns about the long term resilience and flood rollover ability of New Hanover County and the city of Wilmington. And the last thing that we should be doing, given those concerns for existing infrastructure, the last thing that we should be doing is putting any new infrastructure in places that will immediately be exposed to hazards and vulnerable and will immediately require our attention."

The county planning board is expected to meet next month on December 2nd to discuss the project.

[Editor's note: This article originally referred to the red-yellow sections of downtown as low elevation, not high elevation. It's been updated.]