It was a busy meeting for New Hanover County commissioners this Monday, with the board tackling public health issues and development requests, and hearing farewells from two outgoing members.
Early in this week’s meeting, commissioners approved a new ban on vaping and smoking in public areas. The new regulations come after over a year of debate over how far the prohibitions can and should go.
As approved by the board, the prohibitions would cover many public areas, as well as common areas in apartment and housing complexes, malls, and entertainment venues. The ban makes exceptions for certain designated public and private spaces.
Next up, commissioners heard an update on Covid-19. A late summer spike caused in large part by an influx of college students is under control, according to health department staff. However, while not as severe as some parts of the country, New Hanover County is still seeing increased cases.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr. shared the loss of a personal friend to reinforce the seriousness of the pandemic.
“But here's a young man who was in great health who is no longer with us. And his wife is trying to figure out life now. And we're not sure where he caught it. His church didn't require masks to be mandatory. Not sure if it was there or some other place --- but it's so important, you know, it really hits close to home when it's someone that you've known for a while, it really let's you know --- it's real."
And Assistant Health Director Carla Turner offered several suggestions for holiday safety, including limiting gathering sizes, wearing masks when not eating, and avoiding sharing food.
Commissioners next tackled three major developments in the northern part of the county. This includes roughly 500 acres of land owned by the Trask family, in a pair of rezoning requests seen as a harbinger of a development boom in the region. (More on the development project here).
Also north of Wilmington, the Landing at Lewis Creek on Gordon Road requested a small expansion. Despite some concerns in the past about the project’s traffic impact, commissioners now favored the project.
In fact, the discussion also included an unexpected piece of good news about the long-delayed expansion of Gordon Road, delivered by Commissioner Rob Zapple.
"Now there's some good news on the Gordon Road project. Chad Kimes, the division three chief engineer [for NCDOT] sent an email out to the WMPO this past week; they said that they were able to put the money together to begin the right of way acquisitions for the Gordon Road project starting in January of 2021," three years ahead of schedule.
All three development requests were approved unanimously.
In closing, the board heard farewell remarks from Commissioners Woody White and Patricia Kusek.
White spoke at length, and at times emotionally, touting his achievements in fiscal restraint, as well as the county’s handling of major issues, like GenX, Hurricane Florence, and the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
White thanked each of his fellow commissioners with the notable exception of Rob Zapple. White also thanks several top staff members personally before turning to the county at large.
“To the citizens in New Hanover County: from my first day on the job, I kept every promise I made to you. I always put your interests first. I'm indebted to you for giving me the privilege of serving you in 2012. And for rehiring me for the job in 2016 ... Thank you all very much. And I will see you all again much sooner than you think.”
Commissioner Kusek was more concise, also thanking her colleagues before gaveling the meeting closed.
"But I'm miss all of you --- you are the finest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with in my life. Thank you, it has been an honor, so much. Thanks so much."
You can find the full video here.