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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Battleship Point developers withdraw Leland annexation request following NHC work session discussing western bank development

Vince Winkel

Last week, New Hanover County Commissioners held a work session to discuss development plans on the western bank of the Cape Fear River. Developers of a $500-million project believe the county may eventually come around to allowing more intense development.

The half-billion-dollar Battleship Point project is eyeing Point Peter, a stretch of land north of Eagles Island and across from Wilmington's riverfront amphitheater. While the county's development plan intends for the western bank of the river to ultimately mirror the urban landscape of downtown Wilmington, the Point Peter property would require a new zoning category to be built on. New Hanover County commissioner pressed pause on the process, however, when faced with public pushback on a range of concerns.

The developer of that half-billion project had considered turning to Leland for help with possibly annexing the site — a move that would leave the property in New Hanover County, but allow Leland to stretch across county boundaries and allow the Battleship Point project to be developed under Leland's zoning regulations provided the town approved three things: annexation, a new zoning regulation, and a rezoning of the area.

Leland's Planning Board gave the green light and the proposal was headed to Leland's Town Council, but according to Kirk Pugh, a partner in KFJ Development, the Battleship Point team has withdrawn the requests, for the time being.

"It was originally scheduled to be taken up, but since the Planning Board approval, we've withdrawn from the agenda our request for the voluntary annexation and the text amendment and zoning change simply because, you know, we started on this road with New Hanover County, we realize New Hanover County is working towards a goal — we don't know what the goal is yet. And before we make such a dramatic move, we'd kind of like to see how New Hanover County plays out," Pugh said in an interview with WHQR.

That decision is still up in the air after last week's work session, where commissioners considered a county report containing detailed examples on how to build in flood-prone areas.

Editor's note: Stay tuned for a more in-depth interview with development partners Jim Lea and Kirk Pugh tomorrow.

Work session

Commissioners heard presentations during the meeting to explain further what was in that report. Finally, after nearly an hour and a half of discussion, Board Chair Julia Olsen-Boseman asked County Engineer Jim Iannucci: “Can the site be built on, Jim?”

He responded: “Ma’am, anything can be built on.”

Related: New Hanover County work session will tackle development of the Cape Fear's western bank

But that’s not the issue, it’s whether or not anything should be built there. The NAACP and Downtown Wilmington Historical Society have both voiced concerns about development on the west bank, along with several other organizations voicing environmental and cultural concerns — but the biggest concern brought forth by both activists and experts during the work session was flooding and sea-level rise.

Roger Shew, a professor of geology at UNCW put it simply: “Even though it's 11 feet up above base flood and two-foot freeboard, you're still going to have stuff on the ground. And so you're still going to have to have access to the ground level to get up into the parking deck here. And I'm going to tell you anytime you put stuff in a floodplain, that is a bad idea.”

The conclusion? The area is very problematic to develop in the long run, but the commissioners have the authority to designate zoning restrictions and parameters. Commissioners ended the meeting without coming to any concrete decisions but plan to continue workshopping their plans for the western Cape Fear River bank in the coming weeks.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.