While everyone agreed that the Wrightsville Beach structure that was once a convenience store is now an eyesore, neighbors said the proposal to turn the building into a restaurant would bring in too much traffic and too much drinking, prompting the town’s planning board to delay a decision on the project at the “Scotchman” lot at 100 W. Salisbury St.
The delay came at the request of the developers of the proposed “South Seas” restaurant after nearly a dozen residents spoke at the Wrightsville Beach Planning Board meeting on Tuesday evening. At the suggestion of the board, attorney Matthew Nichols said the developers would like a opportunity to present the project again to the board, with more focus on areas that raised concerns. The town’s planning board will again open the public hearing on April 3, offering residents a new chance to offer their feedback on the project. The project will also have to be approved by the town’s board of aldermen following the planning board vote.
Alcohol, food service, parking, and both boat and foot traffic were concerns raised by both board members and residents. The proposal would turn the 20 foot by 48 foot building into a restaurant with an outdoor seating patio, with capacity to serve 33 people, 17 inside and 16 outside. A nine-slip dock at the end of pier would be available for rent and a single dock in Kenan Creek would be available for the transient boaters to stop at the establishment.
But whether those boaters would be stopping for food or merely drinks was a concern for many at the meeting. Several said the small kitchen space made them believe the real purpose of the business was to sell alcohol. The developers told the board that it would pursue a full liquor license, but the would-be operator said the idea was to bring in a cutting edge eatery that utilized the capabilities of a small kitchen.
“It it absolutely not going to be a bar,” restaurant operator Chris Batten told the board, noting that while the restaurant won’t have a “hood” venting system that the kitchen space does take up 20 percent of the floorplan. “There is a lot you can do with cold prep and the use of electric flat tops. We’ll serve breakfast, lunch and light dinner, with a focus on sandwiches and casual dining.”
But several neighbors of the property that they see the proposal as nothing more than a bar, with one calling it a “brew through”, another foreseeing a “tiki beer bar” and a third saying the restaurant was only “a disguise for another bar.” And with just 21 parking spots on the lot, neighbors surmised that overflow parking would end up on Pelican Drive, where several speakers at the meeting live.
However, four residents did speak up for the project as well, citing the need for viable project to replace the dilapidated building, with one supporter saying that the “town had a wonderful opportunity for a project that looks like it fits the mold.”
Besides general concerns with alcohol sales and the problems associated with it, board members also wondered how the business would regulate the boat slips. The developers said that the nine slips would be rented. But board member Thomas “Ace” Cofer asked that if recreational boaters docked in those slips to go to the restaurant, would they be turned away by the staff.
Batten, the would-be purveyor of the restaurant, has experience at Fish House Grill, Surf City Surf Shop, and, most recently, Bespoke Coffee and Dry Goods, which he also said uses a small kitchen system similar to the one proposed for South Seas.