City talks new Wrightsville Sound developments

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Discussions on new developments in the Wrightsville Sound area dominated much of Wilmington City Council’s Tuesday, Sept. 2, meeting with rezoning ordinances for the Galleria property and a new events center on Allens Lane in question.

The establishment of the city’s new Urban Mixed-Use (UMX) zoning, which will allow smaller mixed-use developments outside downtown Wilmington, was passed Tuesday after the item was continued from council last meeting in August.

Councilmember Kevin O’Grady still had questions about the lack of minimum parking requirements for the new zoning but assistant city manager Glen Harbeck said not establishing parking lot minimums is a trend nationwide to encourage fewer large parcels of asphalt blocks for parking lots.

“Because of the residential component the developer has a tremendous incentive to make sure there is enough parking for those tenants or owners,” Harbeck said.

That Urban Mixed-Use zoning was applied to the 12.2-acre Galleria property recently acquired by the city from the Town of Wrightsville Beach through voluntary annexation.

City associate planner Jeff Walton said the UMX zoning was the best fit because it would foster traffic congestion reduction, walkability within the development, interconnectivity with surrounding places and push building frontages closer to the streets with structured parking spaces hidden from the road view.

One member of the public spoke during the public hearing.

Brian Buckley, Edgewater Home Owner’s Association President, said the required 35-foot setback from his neighborhood, which abuts the rear of the property, was insufficient for noise concerns. Buckley said residents of Edgewater were able to hear music from the rooftop bar that opened in the Galleria just prior to the center closing in June 2012. However, despite his concerns, Buckley said residents would welcome new development in the area, calling the current uninhabited shopping center and eyesore.

City council’s next public hearing focused attention on a parcel of land just across Wrightsville Avenue from the Galleria for a potential rezoning from residential land on Allens Lane to office and industrial zoning for a new events center.

Named Wrightsville Manor, the architecture of the proposed 6,230-square foot events center would be inspired by the Pembroke Jones estate that stood in Airlie Gardens, said attorney Matt Nichols on behalf of applicants Christa and Peter Sweyer. Nichols said the primary use of the space would be for weddings, corporate events or social events. With Allens Lane being a dirt road, Nichols said the Sweyers would also pave, curb and gutter the road to tie into the roadway improvements already coming with the Spartina townhomes development behind Lumina Station.

Currently the maximum occupancy of the building would by 146, as dictated by the 73 parking spaces available on the lot. However, Christa Sweyer said they were searching for lots to house extra parking during events, which could bring the total maximum occupancy up to around 260.

Not everyone in attendance for the public hearing was supportive of the proposal with residents citing street crowding, noise and parking concerns.

Paul and Rhett Taber of the Taber family, which owns a majority of the land in that stretch of Allens Lane, said the center would hinder their way of life.

Wayne Age, a resident of Allens Lane and deacon at the nearby St. Matthew AME Church, said he was concerned about the security of the century-old church.

Intracoastal Realty CEO and Lumina Station developer Jim Wallace said the development would negatively affect his adjoining undeveloped residential property.

“First let me say the idea and concept are great and the idea looks great on paper… but I don’t think this is the proper location for this,” Wallace said. “We own the property immediately west of what would be the events center and plan to eventually develop that land with residential units but we don’t think an events center will be a good neighbor for residential neighborhoods.”

Three members of the public did voice their approval of the development, including Fisherman’s Wife owner Estelle Baker who said she has lived next to a busy parking lot and restaurant area on Airlie Road for 22 years with little disturbance.

Christa Sweyer said they were planning to use sound dampening paneling inside the event space and that the events held there would not cause the issues neighbors were concerned about.

City council approved the rezoning with Neal Anderson voting against. Included in the rezoning were conditions for there to be one parking spot on site for every two people possibly in attendance and the ability to utilize trollies for transportation to offsite auxiliary parking.

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