The City of Wilmington has broken trust with the residents and business owners of Wrightsville Sound.
Everything residents fought a pitched and protracted battle to prevent has been realized.
Of course I mean the large, unattractive apartment complex that has destroyed the coastal look and feel of this unincorporated community on the eastern edge of New Hanover County, the gateway to Wrightsville Beach, lying on the edge of the City of Wilmington.
Evidence of the city’s elected officials’ duplicity in issuing a special use permit for the construction of this mixed use project over neighbors’ strong objections is there for all to see.
Then too, what was built is not even what was approved.
The mammoth grouping of non-coastal buildings, under construction since 2014, is incredibly out of place on the 4.5 acre site where before the historic and beloved Babies Hospital and UNCW Marine Science facility sat surrounded by gracious live oaks, buffered by bucolic views of the Summer Rest pond (Motts Pond) teeming with fish and water birds.
The sad thing is the developer, Bailey and Associates, built something that would have looked fine in their hometown of Jacksonville, North Carolina. But in this pristine setting, on the historic Wrightsville Avenue corridor, in the heart of this unique coastal community, it is an eyesore.
The city promised Wrightsville Sound residents their fears were unwarranted, as did the Baileys.
Residents who spoke during the numerous public hearings referenced the Wrightsville Sound Small Area Plan, adopted July 2011, and expressed their concern over the incompatibility of the proposed construction with the surrounding area, and its inconsistency with the area’s character.
They noted that there are no other 50-foot-tall buildings in the Wrightsville Sound Small Area, which would make this one conspicuous, out of character and not in harmony with the area.
How right they were.
Adding insult to injury, the city turned a blind eye to the protection of the trees.
Time and again, tree cutters whacked away at limbs and branches. The cuts have been numerous and pronounced, including amputation of the noteworthy long, low, eastern-reaching horizontal limbs.
The drip line of the tree, ringed with orange webbing for a majority of the construction, gave the appearance of protection — lulling those concerned about the tree into a false sense of security. All the while, the cutting continued surreptitiously.
The area of protective orange webbing shrank repeatedly, then heavy equipment and construction materials were parked on top of the great tree’s horizontal roots, compacting the extended root system still below.
Frantic calls and emails have fallen on the deaf ears of the city’s arborist and elected officials.
Clearly the process has not worked. The mayor, council and city manager eager for coins in the tax coffers are not to be trusted. Neither is the arborist on staff.
Is it any wonder residents of nearby Airlie Road are so freaked out about the proposal to add residential units to a parking lot of a restaurant in their neighborhood? How can they trust the city with their property values and quality of life?
An arborist can be bought; the city at Mayor Bill Saffo’s urging needs to step up and appoint a committee of three people, plus an arborist to oversee its enforcement of its tree protection ordinance. Enforcement and consequences need to have teeth. Significant fines must be levied when the ordinance is ignored.
City leaders can and should direct responsible growth and development compatible with neighborhoods. If not, we need new elected leaders.
The city is getting less attractive by the week as saws cut and cut and cut away what contributes so much to the beauty and health of the city.
When you destroy the golden goose, there are no more golden eggs.