At the New Hanover County Planning Board’s final work session on the Special Use Permit last week, the board indicated it is still moving forward to weaken the current SUP, despite the many people and organizations that have come forward in support of making the SUP stronger.

The past few days, the North Carolina Coastal Federation team has held several internal discussions about what occurred at the NHC Planning Board’s final work session last week and how best to implement the next steps to mobilize the public and media.

The federation’s team has several concerns about the recommendations made by special interests and about what the NHC Planning Board is now considering to move forward to their public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017:

  • The NHC Planning Board is still moving forward with deleting the required disclosure of external effects for intensive industry. This requirement would make proposed intensive industry tell the public how a project might affect their health and the community where they live — but some special interest groups say that is too much to ask of an industry.
  • In addition, special interests are now proposing to allow some “general” manufacturing uses that are appropriate in I-2, heavy industry zones (examples: pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, textile/apparel manufacturing, basic chemical manufacturing) to be built and operate in other zoning districts that are closer to residential neighborhoods and retail establishments.

Essentially, this latest recommendation reclassifies a list of more intensive “general” manufacturing uses as less intensive “limited” manufacturing uses by means of a text amendment without any community input or conducting any reasonable research. Currently, if a property owner wants to develop a use that is not allowed in that district, a rezoning would be required, including legal notification of adjacent property owners, posting a sign on the property and holding a public hearing. While manipulating land uses by means of a text amendment is not “illegal,” the federation’s staff members believe it certainly is not “the model of good governance.”

If the NHC Planning Board recommends these changes after the public hearing on Jan. 5, 2017, the Board of Commissioners will likely have a public hearing on these recommendations Feb. 6, 2017. These are troublesome proposed amendments that may threaten existing homes and businesses owners’ most important investments, if more intensive uses are allowed next to them.

Accountability? Transparency? Equitable and Inclusive? These are the cornerstones of good governance. And this simply is not the case. These recommendations by special interests are being made without the benefit of NHC Planning Department’s due diligence and without consideration of the potential long-term consequences. New Hanover County has allocated $500,000 and hired the firm LSL Planning to conduct a thorough assessment of the county’s zoning districts and provide professional recommendations on appropriate land uses and zoning guidelines in conjunction with Plan NHC, the county’s recently adopted comprehensive land use plan. At a minimum, the NHC Planning Board should forward these proposed changes to LSL Planning for their recommendation and review.

While the staff continues to mobilize, don’t forget these very important actions along the way:

1) Save the date and attend these upcoming public hearings. When the BOC public hearing was tabled in November, we had more than 150 people in attendance. With the latest recommendations by special interests, we need to double that presence and ensure the NHC Planning Board and the Board of Commissioners know where the community stands on this issue.

2) Join other voices in the community and write to the NHC Planning Board members and Board of Commissioners.

Please do not hesitate to contact Mike Giles, Karen Dunn or Jennifer Salter with any questions.