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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Dockside withdraws parking lot proposal

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The owners of Dockside Restaurant and Bar have withdrawn an application with Wilmington city planners for rezoning of its parking lot as part of a proposal to upgrade the property. The withdrawal comes before a scheduled September consideration by the Wilmington City Council, as the restaurant’s owners, who have released the local attorney from working on the proposal, said they plan to evaluate their options.

The proposal drew opposition from neighbors, many of whom believed a rezoning of the property would create a legal precedent that would allow the area west of Airlie Road to be zoned commercial. Several area residents opposed the zoning change application when it was considered in May by the Wilmington City Council, which voted to give the ownership more time to work with neighbors on a proposal that alleviated their concerns.

Wilmington associate planner Jeff Walton said that by withdrawing the application, the ownership of Dockside could return with a new proposal and begin the process from the start, without any time restrictions.

The owners of Dockside have argued that the gravel parking lot needs to be paved and that a more delineated parking lot will allow for safer access to the lot while reducing traffic backups. But neighbors said that allowing the zoning change would go against the Wrightsville Sound small area plan, potentially opening up more commercial development and denser residential zoning.

The withdrawal of the application comes on the heels of a ruling by the city’s board of adjustment in July that could prevent Dockside from allowing parking on one of the lots near the restaurant. Though zoned residential, the lot across from Dockside at 1308 Airlie Road had a proven history of commercial use for parking dating back to before the city’s 1999 annexation of that property.

But there is some parking on the next-door lot at 1303 Airlie Road, which the board ruled was a zoning violation and not covered by the special exception afforded to 1308 Airlie Road.

D.K. Leech, manager of the property’s ownership group Thirteen Aught Three, said he would “evaluate all options regarding the property.”

Matthew Nichols, a local attorney who has represented Thirteen Aught Three for more than one year, said this week that he was no longer working on the project.

Dockside’s owners proposed a parking project that would pave 1308 Airlie Road while incorporating a portion of 1303 Airlie Road into the parking design. The project would require rezoning the projects from the current residential R-15 classification to Community Business (Conditional District), which would allow for construction on the parking. The remodel of 1303 Airlie Road, with a house facing the street, included adding residential units at the rear of the property, which also raised neighbor concerns over density.

Dockside’s owners have been trying for more than one year to win approval for a project to refurbish the two properties. The Wilmington Planning Commission rejected a rezoning proposal in February 2015 by a 4-2 vote, but it approved a similar plan during its February 2016 meeting 6-1, despite the city’s planning staff recommending rejecting the rezoning request.

Dockside’s owners had the item pulled from the Wilmington City Council’s March 1 agenda to allow for more time to win support from neighbors. In April, the restaurant held two meetings with the public, where Nichols proposed a plan that included changes to the original proposal.

The primary change was a redesign that would allow only one residential house on the property at the rear of 1303 Airlie Road, as opposed to the three small “patio homes” in the original proposal. The change did little to quell neighborhood opposition and when the Wilmington City Council considered the proposal in May, several members of the council said they were concerned about neighborhood opposition. Mayor Bill Saffo told the restaurant’s representatives that he sensed a defeat and suggested postponing consideration to the September meeting.

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  1. I love Dockside, take guests there frequently, but I adamantly oppose any further incursion on west side of Airlie. If it’s true that Dockside has so much business it needs to repave its parking lot, then have it repaved as responsibility of ownership. If you “can’t afford” this maintenance, then raise your prices. If you have more business than can be accommodated on your present site, buy another site elsewhere for Dockside II. Stop whining and do your business right.

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