New Galleria zoning postponed

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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 at its Tuesday, Aug. 19 meeting.

The zoning recommended by city staff for the land was Urban Mixed Use, which was itself also the subject of a public hearing and vote during Tuesday night’s meeting. The Urban Mixed Use zone was developed to address mid-range infill developments within the city’s downtown center and the ordinance amendment up for discussion would have allowed the zoning on applicable lots outside the downtown area.

After a significant amount of discussion the amendment was approved on first reading by city council by 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.

Therefore, city council would not have been able to approve the recommended UMX 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 concern about rushing the approval of a new mixed-use zoning outside 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 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 Wrightsville Avenue just across Oleander Drive from the Galleria, 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, immediately behind the Galleria property, also spoke during the meeting like real estate investment firm manager Maurice Malfatti, who cautioned city council on 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.”

The Galleria property will remain without an official zoning from the city at least until council’s Sept. 2 meeting.

email cole@luminanews.com

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