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A Castle Hayne church's affordable housing effort has been rejected by the NHC Planning Board

A construction worker walks along an apartment and retail complex in Nashville, Tenn. earlier this month.
Mark Humphrey
A construction worker walks along an apartment and retail complex in Nashville, Tenn. earlier this month.

Last week, the New Hanover County Planning Board rejected plans for an affordable housing development in Castle Hayne. That’s despite staff support for a plan that had been revised to work better with county guidelines.

At a Feb. 1 New Hanover County Planning Board meeting, Pastor Robert Campbell brought his proposal for an affordable housing development in Castle Hayne. It’s the second he’s brought forward — the first was an affordable housing project aimed at seniors near his church's campus at New Beginnings Christian Church.

This time, the property is aimed at families. After hearing criticisms in an earlier planning board meeting, Campbell revised his plans, reducing the number of units from 180 to 128.

The site already has approval for around 60 units, but the developer wanted to create even more affordable housing.

Associate Planner Love Ott said the staff support the rezoning because it follows the comprehensive plan.

"The project is reasonable and in the public interest because the proposed project provides a variety of housing options and additional affordable housing units in the county," Ott said.

After the developer presentation, half a dozen neighbors stepped forward to oppose the project, their complaints ranging from their flooded backyards to traffic to concerns about 17-year-olds breaking into their houses.

The location on Blue Clay Road sits next to Campbell’s church, and a single-family neighborhood — Rachel’s Place — that was built in the past 10 years. Cindee Wolf, speaking on behalf of the applicant, said the revised plan is more dense than the original, but falls on the same footprint with no additional poured cement.

"We get double the bang for the buck when it comes to affordable housing. That's the one thing that seems to be missing in all of these conversations. Affordable housing is so needed,” Wolf said.

The applicant also applied with certain conditions included, like an affordability period of at least 15 years with rental limits based upon HUD income limits of 80% AMI. In 2023, HUD set that limit at $50,550 for a single-person household, or $57,750 for a 2-person household: so households couldn't make more than that and qualify to live in the apartments.

Neighbors’ concerns about flooding were found to be unwarranted- the water from the property flows away from their yards, and into on-site retention ponds. "There is no anticipated drainage that will be impacted or being directed to Rachel's place,” said County Storm Water Engineer Galen Jamison.

Wolf pointed out that the applicant had done traffic impact analysis, storm water analysis, and that even home values aren’t generally impacted by apartments like these.

“Frankly, I understand the opposition and the comments they make," Wolf said. "They come here and it's emotional for them. But they haven't really identified any specific impacts to the community.”

Ultimately, those arguments in favor of the project didn’t matter. Board member Clark Hipp started off the critique, and said it simply: “In general, my first impression of the presentation is that this is a very dense development.”

He said the development wasn’t in keeping with the properties around it. But he still commended the church for its efforts, and welcomed Pastor Campbell to the stand to respond.

Campbell addressed his remarks largely in response to the neighbors' complaints.

"While I respect the fact that they want a quality of life that they bought their property for. I would like to same thing Only difference is, I’m not doing it for me," he said.

He described the tenants he would bring in- people who work for a living, but can’t afford the average market rent in Wilmington. "The need is so great. And if not here, where?” he asked.

To that, Board Member Colin Tarrant had a simple response.

"We admire the efforts that are being made by Pastor Campbell and the church really to address a really glaring need in the community," he said. "But Rome wasn't built in a day. And it's a collective effort, and it all can't be done on one piece of property.”

The board voted against the rezoning unanimously, but Campbell vowed to bring the project to the New Hanover County Commission — who have the final say, and don’t always agree with the planning board.

After 10 years of work to set up this project, Campbell doesn’t want to keep waiting, and he needs the added density to make the project work financially. He told WHQR he will likely bring it up at a commission meeting in the coming months.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.