Election results could impact SUP hearing

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The results of the 2016 election will have an immediate impact on the upcoming New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meeting, where a vote on a contentious industrial development policy change could be brought up despite the board’s opposition.

A public hearing on a proposed revised special use permit (SUP) process is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 14, in what will be Republican chair Beth Dawson’s last meeting.

Dawson has said she wants the board to move forward with a revised SUP, which critics say is too restrictive on industries, making it difficult for businesses to expand into the county. However, when the New Hanover County Planning Board opened a public hearing on revisions to the SUP on Nov. 3 it voted to table it in favor of more review.

Commissioner Woody White, who won re-election Tuesday night and received the most votes of the three candidates to win seats, said that the board should not go forward with the scheduled public hearing.

“I hope the election results will convince the lame-duck board to postpone any policy decisions until it can be considered by the full, newly elected board,” White said.

Joining White on the board is Patricia Kusek, a Republican who will fill the seat left vacant by Dawson. Democrat commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. also won re-election. White endorsed Kusek before the election, who along with commissioner Skip Watkins would make up a conservative majority on the commission, White said.

Kusek said she didn’t believe the board of commissioners should hurry the approval of a new SUP. Kusek said creating a better climate for businesses to relocate to the county was one of her top priorities as a commissioner.

“What’s the rush? There’s time to take a pause and get it right,” Kusek said. “The SUP is important to Wilmington business development. The county needs to focus on getting the word out to businesses about the potential here.”

The N.C. Coastal Federation wants the board of commissioners to act on the public hearing, arguing that more than two years have been spent considering revisions to the policy.

“They’ve had ample opportunity over the course of two years to create improvements,” said Mike Giles, N.C. Coastal Federation coastal advocate. “It’s delayed and delayed. Folks are trying to delay it on purpose. It’s time to step up and make the recommended improvements.”

The revisions came after more than two years of negotiations between environmental and industry interests, with no consensus reached. The Coastal Federation used a $25,000 grant to fund a task force that proposed a rewrite to the existing SUP to make the requirements more clear for industrial businesses that want to locate in New Hanover County.

When those proposed changes couldn’t win a consensus from the different stakeholders, the

board of commissioners asked the county’s planning staff to create its own set of changes for the SUP.

Giles said those changes had made the SUP process more clear, though there was more work needed on the table of permitted uses, which specifies which industries need to go through the SUP process. He said that despite the planning board’s failure to approve the SUP changes, the board could bring them up as part of the public hearing. Changes to the permitted uses could be addressed by the board at a later time, Giles said.

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