UPDATED: Wilmington council gives Dockside more time to work with neighbors on parking plan

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With defeat appearing imminent, the Wilmington City Council offered the Dockside restaurant owners the opportunity to delay a vote on their parking lot proposal in order to work more closely with neighbors and city staff to develop an alternative plan that wouldn’t require a zoning change. On the 7-0 vote Tuesday, May 3, the council postponed the  hearing until September after giving the Dockside owners time to consider the offer to delay presented by Mayor Bill Saffo, who told them he sensed a defeat for the rezoning request.

The vote came after nearly two hours of presentations and testimony on the project that would reconstruct the parking lot on 1303 Airlie Road to incorporate part of the neighboring lot at 1308 Airlie Road, while adding residential units as well. The lots sit across from Dockside Marina & Restaurant. A lost vote would have required Dockside owners wait a year to submit a new proposal.

Residents near the lots wore red shirts and told the council that the project’s rezoning would invite other development on the west side of Airlie Road, while increasing density in the area.

“It doesn’t fit the character of the neighborhood,” said Dr. Brady Semmel, a neighbor of the project who spoke on behalf of the residents.

After the council got a view of an alternative plan put together by the city’s staff, which included some key elements also proposed by neighbors, several members asked why the two sides had not been able to come up with a compromise. However, the plan could require a change to the city’s building code rather than a more-targeted zoning change, making the approval more complicated.

In the alternative proposal, there would be only one residential house, instead of two or three smaller houses proposed by the developers. And instead of accessing these residences through the parking lot, the alternative plan would allow access to the house through neighboring Airlie Oaks Lane, a private road that would require negotiation with the homeowners association.

The hearing included public testimony on both sides, with some patrons who drive to the location urging the council to approve the rezoning. And even opponents acknowledged that the parking lot was dusty, crowded, messy and sometimes dangerous.

“We’re not opposed to what they’re trying to accomplish, we’re opposed to how they’re doing it,” Semmel said.

Dockside owner Jennifer Leech spoke to the council, touting the business’ 110 employees and its impact on the surrounding community.

“We are a portal to the water,” she said. “This plan works, it has substantial benefits for the community.”

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