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Middle Sound Loop residents challenge addition to long-dormant aquatics complex plan

The proposed outdoor pool portion of the Riptide Aquatics Center.
New Hanover County Board of Adjustment
The proposed outdoor pool portion of the Riptide Aquatics Center.

Middle sound loop residents are taking their protests against Riptide Aquatics Center, a planned aquatics complex to the New Hanover County Board of Adjustment, which has oversight over some planning and zoning decisions. Concerns about the facility date back almost 20 years.

Neighbors have been pushing back against commercial development in the residential area on Middle Sound Loop Road for twenty years — and three times prevailed with county commissioners voting down rezoning requests from Inland Harbour Properties.

Then, in 2004, the county's planning board unanimously approved a special use permit (SUP), but commissioners voted 4-0 to shoot down plans for the fourth time. Inland Harbour took its case to court and won. Superior Court Judge Jay D. Hockenbury ruled in favor of the developer and ordered commissioners to approve the SUP allowing the aquatics facility at 3102 Middle Sound Loop Road.

Still, the project lay almost completely dormant except for a 2017 request to add an indoor pool to the complex, which the county's planning department granted as a “minor modification" according to documents provided by the Board of Adjustment. This spring, the developer finally appeared to begin construction — and neighbors discovered the addition of the indoor pool to the site plans.

Those neighbors have been fundraising to hire legal support and neighboring resident Henry Depew has filed an appeal with the Board of Adjustment to block the indoor pool. According to residents who spoke with WHQR, a main concern is that the indoor facility will increase traffic by expanding the numbers of guests at the facility and the potential hours of operation — as well as making traffic a year-round concern, instead of a seasonal one. Residents also noted that traffic was already a concern given by commissioners when they rejected the SUP in 2004, before nearly two decades of development in the region put additional strain on Middle Sound Loop Road.

The appeal will be heard Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. during the Board of Adjustment meeting held in the Lucie Harrell Conference Room at the New Hanover County Government Center at 230 Government Center Drive.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.