CAMA land use committee talks extending building heights


The steering committee considering changes to Wrightsville Beach’s land use plan had its first discussions last week on what will likely be the most controversial issues in the plan as it looks at exemptions to the town’s building height limit of 40 feet.

Several members of the committee that’s reviewing the Wrightsville Beach land use plan said the town will have to reconsider the building height limit if it’s going to encourage commercial development in the town’s stagnant vacant properties.

The town’s 40-foot building height limit is one of the topic that will be addressed in the town’s CAMA Land Use Plan, a document that helps set the town’s future development policy. During the April 20 meeting of the steering committee reviewing the plan, the building height was discussed extensively, with several members supporting some raising of the height limit.

In recent years, several developers have tried, and failed, to get the town board of aldermen to support raising the height limit.

The Coastal N.C. Real Estate firm that owns the vacant lot next to Johnnie Mercer’s Pier failed to get the town to support an increase last October, arguing that the height limit prevent developing four usable floors. During that meeting, a few aldermen referenced the CAMA land use steering committee as the place to address changes in the town’s building height code.

Dale Holland, whose firm Holland Consulting Partners is managing the land use plan rewrites, said that the town’s rising property values would make developing the town’s vacant properties a challenge, but he said height limit adjustments could be made selectively.

“It’s going to be difficult without some adjustment in height,” Holland said. “I’m not talking about 10 stories but four stories, five stories. Some addition in height would make a huge difference.”

Several members said that any building height adjustment should be confined to commercial properties. Committee member Jim Busby said that a few feet adjustment should be made to “accommodate four usable levels,” since developers said changes in flood zone requirements have made it difficult to fit in four usable stories. One member, Frank Smith Jr., said that the plan should incorporate tools to control the scale of the project, but offer compromises on height.

“Economically, it’s almost impossible to develop here,” said Jim Smith, who noted that the rebuilding of the Holiday Inn the late 1990s was the last major project in Wrightsville Beach. “I’m a firm believer that we have to keep commercial properties here.”

With density on Wrightsville Beach expected to remain steady, Holland said the real concerns with population growth would come from across the drawbridge. He noted that the recent Wilmington land use plan called the area west of Wrightsville Beach along Eastwood Road as an “area of opportunity.”

“Quite possibly, the best thing you have going for you is that drawbridge and limited parking,” Holland said.

On that point, Holland said that the pressure that population growth will have on the C. Heide Trask Bridge could be another obstacle for committee members to face in the land use plan rewrite.

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