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Environmental advocates gather to oppose new rezoning proposal for the Cape Fear River's western bank

USS North Carolina flooding
Camille Mojica
The flooded parking lot by the U.S.S. North Carolina where, appropriately, local groups gathered to highlight the environmental impact of building on the Cape Fear's western shore.

On Wednesday morning, a press conference was held on the USS North Carolina’s deck. Speaking, was a coalition of activist groups around the Wilmington area speaking out against the proposed text amendment to a rezoning project that would allow for high-density development on the West side of the Cape Fear River.

The proposal being set forth is a text amendment to New Hanover County’s Unified Land Development Code establishing a new zoning district called “Riverfront Urban Mixed-Use” on the west bank of the Cape Fear River, turning it to high density development. Peter’s Point, where the new development would be located is a bit North of the USS North Carolina. The parking lot at the battleship was partially flooded when the press conference began.

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The project eyeing Point Peter is being called Battleship Point and it’s a sizeable project: 8-acres including over 500 condos, over 300 apartments, roughly 200,00 square feet of commercial space, a high-end hotel, and a 20-story-plus height that would dwarf anything else in the county.

Frank Pasquale of KFJ Development was the one to request the text amendment for the new zoning type that would allow for a large commercial and residential space. After postponing a vote last November, the county’s planning board revisited the issue in early December and shot down the proposal – citing concerns about the zoning’s 240-foot maximum height and the environmental issues raised by advocates who opposed the new zoning regulation.

But the planning board doesn’t get the final say – and Pasquale and his team are taking the issue to the county Board of Commissioners, who will take up the issue next week during their Monday, January 10 meeting.

Kerri Allen, the Coastal Advocate with the North Carolina Coastal Federation explained that the area west of Downtown across the river is flood prone, even in the best conditions.

“This is something from king tides, or something called sunny day flooding. So even under ideal circumstances, this area is underwater. And area, Peter's point where the proposed development is is even more so. And so when you think about the impact that that would have, not only on the environment, but also the public safety and the public health of all the people living there working, there visiting there. It's really just putting more people – more of our community at risk," Allen said.

Concerns about safety aren’t the only things brought forth by the coalition when it comes to flooding. The Brunswick County chapter of the NAACP was present, bringing up the monetary cost of flood assistance on those who don’t make as much money and still need to pay taxes.

Camille Mojica
Several groups opposed to development on the western Cape Fear banks gathered this week; some held signs referencing the Gullah Geechee heritage of the area.

According to Brayton Willis, the chairman of the environmental and climate justice committee for the Brunswick County branch of the NAACP, there has also never been any dynamic flood or watershed modeling out in Peter’s Point, so it’s hard to say for sure what water levels will look like with solid numbers with dredging of the river, storm surge and other factors that come together to make up “compound flooding”.

Both Willis and Allen said the same thing: we can’t engineer our way around mother nature and that she will always win. Willis brought up New Orleans.

“[It’s an] incredible example of billions of dollars that have gone towards trying to keep New Orleans from flooding. So these are the things that people are starting to realize, hey, we've got to do something different, because trying to do the same thing over and over again, is the definition of insanity," he said.

By the end of the conference, high tide had come. Advocates and reporters trying to leave the battleship pulled off their socks and shoes and waded through the water to get to their cars while others jumped in the beds of trucks to be carried across.

Camille Mojica
Leaving the press conference, reporters and advocates faced a submerged parking lot.