NHC commissioners to consider new zoning district
October 13, 2012By J. Elias O'Neal
Smaller lots, increased density and the promotion of more efficient land use are all highlights of a new residential zoning district that could be headed to New Hanover County commissioners next month.
New Hanover County planning staff is hoping to offer a new option, called an R-7 Medium Density District, to developers looking to build single-family homes on smaller lots.
“We decided to create the new zoning district after hearing from builders and developers that there was a need for such a designation,” said Chris O’Keefe, New Hanover County’s planning director. “We want to provide an alternative plan and accommodate the need of builders.”
The New Hanover County Planning Board recently recommended continuing the item, directing staff to examine setback requirements and the zone’s use table, which highlights allowable uses under the proposed zone.
Currently, the county only offers R-20, R-15 and R-10 zoning district designations for a minimum of 20,000-, 15,000- and 10,000-square-feet lot sizes, respectively, for single-family development.
O’Keefe said if a developer is looking to build homes on smaller lots, they typically must request a special use permit, which at times can be difficult to achieve depending on the scope of the project.
Under the new, proposed residential zoning designation, the lot size must be a minimum of 7,000-square-feet and allow up to six units per acre.
O’Keefe said the goal was to facilitate high-quality, dense growth in areas within close proximity of schools, retail and employment centers, all while serving as a buffer between intensely developed areas and lower density residential areas.
Meanwhile, changes to the county’s Exceptional Design Zoning District (EDZD) are also headed to county commissioners for approval.
Adopted in 2009, the zoning district provides opportunities for mixed-use and high-density residential projects in the county by providing design flexibility to achieve public and private spaces that diminish the need for vehicular traffic and encourage pedestrian and bicycle activity.
Through a rigorous point system, a developer has multiple standards to meet to achieve a score of 12 or better before planning staff can recommend approval to the planning board.
But it’s the designation’s flexibility – particularly what constitutes as pedestrian access to retail and schools – that has prompted planning staff to add more specific guidelines within the zone district’s code.
“We found that we needed to be more specific about what would qualify for points under an EDZD designation,” said Shawn Ralston, New Hanover County’s long-range planning manager.
The county recently had two developments request EDZD designations: Amberleigh Shores, a 282-unit apartment development that was denied approval by the county and annexed by Wilmington; and Futch Creek Village, a proposed 267-unit apartment development recently denied a rezoning request by county commissioners because of the developer’s interpretation of pedestrian access and traffic concerns.
Ralston said developers seeking the designation would need to satisfy the pedestrian and bicycle access by constructing a safe network of walking and biking trails to retail and employment centers. A developer could also get increased points by preserving and enhancing native plants and setting aside units that are priced for households earning 60 percent of the area median income.
O’Keefe said the new zoning district and EDZD amendments could be help with future growth in the county.
“There is the potential for bringing in higher tax returns for the county and providing a new designation for builders,” he said. “It’s a winner for all parties involved.”