Apartment complex rejected by commissioners back on the table, residents start petition

Jess Anderson started a petition against a rezoning to bring Palm Grove Apartments to Carolina Beach Road. The rezoning was denied last year by commissioners but was back, receiving approval from planning board again, before heading to commissioners again in July. (Courtesy NHC Planning Board meeting livestream)

WILMINGTON — A rezoning for an apartment complex in the southern portion of the county — denied by commissioners last year, though approved by the planning board — is back, to some nearby residents’ dismay.

READ MORE: More than 500 apartments, more housing coming to NHC

Around 88 people have signed a petition in opposition to rezoning 6634 Carolina Beach Road. The petition was started by Jess Anderson and supports residents from Lords Creek, Wood Lake and Ocean Forests Lakes, affected by the prospective development.

Their concerns are with height and density, increased traffic, overcrowding schools and an acceleration/deceleration turn lane being added from Carolina Beach Road to the existing turn lane onto Glenarthur Drive. The petition also expresses concern with multiple residential developments being added to the area, which will bring in more traffic.

“Adding too many of these apartment mix-used complexes and townhome developments is going to overcrowd our area and take the joy of living here,” the petition states.

It also adds, even though commissioners denied the plan in 2023, it “has not seen significant changes” from a year ago to warrant approval.

Cindee Wolf is a land development consultant representing Giovanni Ippolito and Tanya Vlacancich, New York developers and owners of the property’s 4.65 acres. She presented again to the planning board on June 6, requesting to rezone the land from an R-15 low-density residential to conditional moderate-density residential. It will make way for Palm Grove Apartments.

Again approved unanimously by the planning board earlier this month, the 64-unit complex is proposed to include four three-story buildings and two two-story buildings. The only changes to the proposal from last year are redefined buffers, including pre-existing vegetation, parking spaces and an 8-foot fence between the Palm Grove buildings and the Lord’s Creek adjacent properties.

It will be presented again to commissioners next month, though the board rejected it last May in a 3-2 vote, with Jonathan Barfield and Dane Scalise in favor.

Commissioner Rob Zapple told Port City Daily Thursday the developers may have approached other commissioners about the project since its rejection, but he has not had any further discussions about the proposal since voting against it.

“It does strike me as odd,” Zapple said. “We don’t get a lot of projects that come back with no changes.”

While the project changed a lot between its first application and the time it reached commissioners last year, Wolf told the planning board June 6 she was unsure if those adjustments were clear to the elected officials. 

“When queried about the opposition, I was told the three-stories gave heartburn,” Wolf said at the June 6 meeting. “I frankly don’t believe that they realized or actually understood that the two rear buildings had been reduced, so that we provided that transition that is typical.” 

Originally, the project was supposed to be a 78-unit complex, with a single four-story building, a parking garage and pickleball courts. It was withdrawn from a January 2023 planning board agenda due to planning staff recommending reduced height and density. 

Two months later in March, the development was presented with fewer units, 72, but more buildings, six that would be three-stories and 40-feet tall. The planning board still wasn’t happy due to public concern, stating the buildings would be too tall and impose the privacy of surrounding residents. 

The board also took issue with increased population density in the area, and recommended a plan reduction in both height and stories on the two back buildings bordering Lord’s Creek. They passed it unanimously with the condition that the two buildings must be two-stories, not three, which brought down the units to 64. 

Residents spoke out to the planning board and returned in front of the commissioners in May 2023. Commissioners took issue with increased traffic hazards of more vehicles turning on and off the busy Carolina Beach Road and the neighborhood impacts of rezoning based on density. Palm Grove Apartments will be located a half-mile north from the Carolina Beach and Myrtle Grove roads intersection. 

“I don’t think it’s fair to the surrounding neighbors when they made their home in that area, based on it being a single-family neighborhood,” commissioner LeAnn Pierce said in the meeting. 

Wolf presented, both last year and this year, that the addition of the complex will provide a needed variety of housing types for this part of New Hanover County.

“Through the buffering, through the setbacks, through the conditions for lighting, all of those things we have addressed as best we can, mitigating the impacts of immediately adjacent property owners,” Wolf said June 6 to the planning board.

A dozen residents signed up to speak, still concerned the buildings would bring in more traffic to an already congested area. Around 33,000 vehicles travel in the vicinity on Carolina Beach Road; the rezoning will increase trips by 32 in the morning and 34 in the evening. Because it’s under 100 trips, the developer did not have to do a traffic impact analysis.

The complex will have one entrance, from a right turn lane. It will act as both an acceleration lane for people exiting the property and a deceleration zone for those entering simultaneously. Residents viewed this as a hazard. 

“You add in this other neighborhood, they are then accelerating into our deceleration, or even when we’re coming off of Carolina Beach Road, decelerating. What if they’re turning in before us and we still need the rest of that lane to keep on going? There’s going to be major safety concerns,” Anderson, who started the petition, told the planning board on June 6. 

James Scott, New Hanover County transportation planning engineer, said the North Carolina Department of Transportation will have to evaluate the proposed lane as part of the agreement, but that the turning lane would be safe for drivers.

“The people who are entering the facility do not yield; you can have a conflict,” he said. “But our understanding, from the design point of view, is the vehicle in the road has the right of way, and the vehicle entering that lane is to yield so the concerns raised are one to driver adherence to the rules.”

He also noted past approvals of similar continuous right turn lanes of drivers both entering and exiting at the same time, such as on College Road, north of UNCW.

Some Lord’s Creek residents, according to the petition, think the turn lane near the entrance of their neighborhood will cause collisions. 

“​​The proposed entrance/exit ramp for the development will cause more accidents,” Penny Willmering said in a comment on the petition. “It is so close to Lord’s Creek entrance/exit that while they are speeding up to enter CB road we are slowing down, thus causing issues.”

Other petitioners said there is no need for the complex at all, as four different projects are in development in the surrounding area and more will be appearing before the planning board for rezoning. 

“The same reasons this project was rejected before should stand one year later,” petitioner Jason Eudy indicated.

New Hanover County Commissioners will hear the rezoning request again on July 22.


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