Exploding into east Pender County
June 8, 2012By J. Elias O'Neal
As the Great Recession loomed over the area nearly four years ago, business as our region knew it changed. Now, as development activity begins to increase, some areas are beginning to recover at a modest pace.
This summer, the Greater Wilmington Business Journal will highlight five locations to watch as our region continues to climb out of the depths of the economic downturn.
Those locations include eastern Pender County, Brunswick County, the Mayfaire area, downtown Wilmington and Monkey Junction.
Not only will our series explore each location, it will also provide information on what leaders are doing to prepare for future growth.
Kicking off the series is eastern Pender County, where during the height of the housing boom more than 11,000 single-family units were approved for construction.
While holding firm to its gentle mix of agriculture and manufacturing, many of the county’s eastern communities – Hampstead, Topsail Beach and Surf City – are changing, setting up the cluster of coastal towns to become the region’s next boomburbs.
Wedged between Wilmington and Jacksonville, Realtors and brokers have taken note of the development surge trending into eastern Pender County.
“We’re hearing that it is very active,” said Donna Girardot, Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association’s executive officer. “It’s not whether we are in a recovery, it’s about the strength of the recovery, and regionally, many of our builders are cautiously optimistic.”
Nowhere is that more evident than in Surf City. Located near the Onslow and Pender county line, residential and commercial development is surging across the town of more than 2,500 residents, said Surf City Planning Director Todd Rademacher.
“The builders we have talked to are running out of residential lots,” Rademacher said. “All of our mainland neighborhoods are under construction . . . it seems as if things are beginning to turn around.”
Wilmington-based LMC Group recently submitted a plan for a new, 176 single-family neighborhood that will include walking trails and a commercial development. Stevens Fine Homes also has a number of new homes under construction in Dogwood Lakes, and dirt continues to fly in phase two of Turtle Creek and Saltwater Landing in the 63-year-old town.
The city’s commercial activity is also growing.
Within the Surf City Crossing development along U.S. Highway 17, a new Bojangles’ and Auto Zone recently opened in the Harris Teeter-anchored shopping center. A Waffle House will soon follow, according to city permits. Construction on the long awaited, $10 million Surf City Promenade is also underway. Once completed, the 60,000-square-foot entertainment complex will be home to a 10-screen movie theater, bowling lanes and could employ about 250 people.
Rademacher said the town’s development demand can be attributed to location, planning and infrastructure – a nearly $30 million investment being paid for by the area’s growth.
“We can do a little bit of it all,” Rademacher said of the town’s infrastructure improvements. “During the past 10 years, we have constructed two new water towers. We’ve also purchased 2,300 acres for further expansion of our sewer and water capacity needs.”
Rademacher added Cape Fear Community College’s Surf City campus, which is currently being designed on 25 acres of donated land by the late Alston Burke, is also a major catalyst for development.
“Having Cape Fear Community College in our community is huge,” he said. “I think that will fuel more housing, commercial and light industrial in our area.”
Meanwhile, Pender County leaders are planning for additional growth along its coastal areas.
Kyle Breuer, Pender County director of planning and community development, said while officials adopted a comprehensive plan – which went into effect July 2010 – it has established a Costal Plan.
“The plan integrates all of our land use regulations into one document that had to deal with land use,” Breuer said. “It efficiently guides growth, which is starting to happen.”
Breuer added the county is also expanding its U.S. Highway 421 water plant capacity to handle more than two million gallons a day for future growth within the burgeoning Rocky Top Water and Sewer District, which includes the communities of Rocky Point and Topsail Beach.
It’s a firm out of Alabama, however, that could give eastern Pender County the biggest advantage for future development.
Birmingham, Ala.-based Integra Water LLC may soon be submitting plans to construct a large regional wastewater treatment facility – a development game changer for area.
“With water and sewer, it opens everything up,” Breuer said. “Developers will be able to do a lot more that they couldn’t typically do on a septic system.”
But as the county grows, so does its challenges.
“One of our challenges, is going to be transportation,” Breuer said. “We will need to develop more collector streets for local and public traffic.”
He added that keeping the area’s environmental integrity in balance with development is another challenge.
But, Breuer said, the county’s future remains bright.
“This is a great location, and people want to be here,” Breuer said. “Permitting is up, developments are growing and that is very good news for our county.”