With the 12.2-acre Galleria property recently annexed into the City of Wilmington from the Town of Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington City Council was scheduled to assign a first zoning to the property during its Tuesday, Aug. 19 meeting.
The zoning recommended by city staff was Urban Mixed Use, also the subject of a public hearing and vote during Tuesday night’s meeting. The UMX zone was developed to address mid-range infill developments within the city’s downtown center. The ordinance amendment up for discussion would have allowed the zoning on applicable lots outside of the downtown area.
After a significant amount of discussion, the amendment was approved on first reading by city council in a 5-2 vote with Councilman Kevin O’Grady and Councilwoman Laura Padgett voting against. The second reading of the amendment failed a unanimous vote with Padgett and Councilman Earl Sheridan voting against waiving the second reading, which will push a final vote on approving the amendment to city council’s Sept. 2 meeting.
Without approval of the UMX ordinance, council could not proceed with the recommended zoning for the Galleria property and Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo motioned to continue the Galleria public hearing and zoning -consideration to the Sept. 2 meeting as well.
During city council’s preliminary discussion about the UMX zoning, councilmembers O’Grady and Padgett expressed concerns about rushing the approval of a new mixed-use zoning outside of the downtown area.
“I am enthusiastic about this new zoning designation but it appears to be coming very fast,” Padgett said.
The UMX zoning outside of the downtown area would only be available to lots 5 acres or larger with a maximum height of 55 feet or five stories with the requirement for structured parking. The structured parking could be wrapped around the development, in the form of a parking deck or hidden from the street view to push the building frontage to the street instead of parking lots.
During the public hearing segment of the item, the majority of the city residents that spoke against the UMX zoning addressed the issue as neighbors of the Galleria property.
Bonnie Nelson, a resident of New Orleans Place off of Wrightsville Avenue, said the area should keep a suburban feel.
“I think the UMX zoning is very good for downtown but it was developed for the urban areas of town and people choose to live either in urban sections or suburban sections of town,” Nelson said. “I very much doubt that people knew this was occurring.”
Three residents of the Edgewater neighborhood, adjacent to the Galleria property, also spoke during the hearing, including real estate investment firm manager Maurice Malfatti, who cautioned city council about rushing zoning ordinances and creating loopholes for developers.
“As leaders, employing best practices that safeguard the community are important,” Malfatti said. “I would strongly urge you to heed councilmembers Padgett and O’Grady’s concerns about it being rushed; because, as a developer, these holes are something to latch onto and it can open the door to truly profit-driven development.”
When the North Carolina General Assembly approved the Galleria reannexation June 30, it required a zoning designation be confirmed within 90 days. The Galleria property will remain without an official zoning from the city at least until council’s Sept. 2 meeting.