Storm brews over control of Wrightsville Beach commerically zoned mainland property

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Wrightsville Beach alderman may have little choice about a proposed de-annexation of the Galleria Shopping Center on the New Hanover County mainland.

Alderman Hank Miller said by telephone on June 17 the board is under pressure from the North Carolina General Assembly to capitulate the position it took following a June 2013 public hearing during which it held firm to the 12.2 acres of prime real estate occupied by the derelict 6800 Wrightsville Ave. commercially zoned property.

Mayor Bill Blair is expected to represent the board’s position during a June 17 special meeting, continued from June 12 before opening a public hearing.

Wrightsville Beach residents attending the hearing may not know the subsequent sale of seven contiguous properties abutting the Galleria were purchased between August 2013 and January 2014, all within the city of Wilmington, some with direct access to Airlie Road frontage. Those sales have doubled the real estate holdings for Charlotte-based State Street Galleria LLC, with an additional 11-12 acres, for $3.52 million. The developers purchased the two contiguous Galleria parcels in July 2013, 5.11- and 7.54-acre parcels for $3.76 million each.

Taking property from municipalities is not new for the sitting General Assembly. Legislation passed in 2013 transferring control of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from the city, placing it under the authority of a regional commission of the legislators’ own creation. The same year, the General Assembly passed legislation to remove control the city of Asheville’s water system also transferring control to a metropolitan district governed by an appointed board.

As of press time it is believed a similar bill has been drafted for the General Assembly supporting a forced de-annexation of the Galleria property removing control from Wrightsville Beach and placing it under the control of the city of Wilmington.

Sue Bulluck, representing the interests of the Pearsall Group, owners of the Holiday Inn Resort in Wrightsville Beach, and chairwoman of the Wrightsville Beach Chamber of Commerce, just back from Raleigh is expected to address this issue in her remarks during the public hearing which begins at 5:30 p.m.

At least one former mayor and one former alderman object to the potential de-annexation. By email, both David Cignotti and Dr. Bill Sisson appealed to the sitting aldermen.

“The Board held a hearing last year on this subject and although opinions varied as to whether residential uses were appropriate for the property, the opinion to retain it under the town’s jurisdiction was the majority view and I still believe that this is the position representing the majority of Wrightsville Beach citizens,” Cignotti wrote on June 17.

Sisson echoed his statement.

“If the town relinquishes control over the parcel we lose control over a major part of the gateway to the beach and over the density of the use to which the property might be put and the City of Wilmington would permit much denser uses than would Wrightsville Beach which would increase the traffic congestion on Wrightsville Avenue and the burden on the Wrightsville Beach School due to the inclusion of children from the residential uses proposed for the property in its district.

Cignotti argues that plans for construction have never been concretely approved.

Before purchasing the Wrightsville Beach property, Jeff Kentner, a North Lumina Avenue, Wrightsville Beach, property owner and State Street principal, along with his Wilmington attorney Michael Lee appeared before the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen in June 2013 requesting the de-annexation of the commercially zoned property arguing a mixed use project would have more viability in the current market.

“The fact that Michael Lee, State Street Partner’s attorney, is running for Tom Goolsby’s Senate seat and is supported by Senator Goolsby adds fuel to the rumors that the General Assembly will proceed without the town’s support,” Cignotti has said. “It’s relevant to note that State Street Partners, which develops residential property, purchased the land shortly after the board voted unanimously not to support de-annexation, and knowing the town’s zoning regulations do not allow residential development west of the drawbridge. I believe many citizens in both Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington have reservations about the path that has led us here.”

Cignotti, who  will not attend the public hearing due to short notice, said, “There are rumors that if the town does not agree to the de-annexation, the General Assembly will go through with it anyway. I believe this is a ‘sky is falling’ rumor that is meant to convince the board and citizens that our only choice is to agree; if not we will lose the money that an interlocal agreement would require the city of Wilmington to give to the town.”

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