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City's Rewritten Development Rules To Take Effect Before The End Of The Year

By Cece Nunn, posted Aug 18, 2021
The city of Wilmington's revamped Land Development Code (LDC) takes effect Dec. 1 after the city council voted unanimously to adopt it Tuesday.

“This new code was a major undertaking that was built on community input from the ground up,” said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo in a news release Wednesday. “It is designed to respond to the biggest challenges we face, like protecting and restoring our tree canopy, carefully managing future growth, and making the city more convenient. This is a tremendous accomplishment that will impact our city in a positive way for generations to come.”

The new code marks the first time in nearly four decades that the city has overhauled the rules governing development within city limits.

Some business owners and members of the development community sought more time for discussion and a delay in the LDC's adoption process, saying the rewrite doesn't make investment easier in the city, doesn't specifically facilitate infill or affordability and "needs to be more fully vetted by end users."

City officials denied those claims, made by business advocacy group Business Alliance for a Sound Economy (BASE).

"We really appreciate [City Councilmen] Neil Anderson and Charlie Rivenbark asking pointed questions and voicing concerns last night about unintended consequences and regulatory challenges of the new code," said Tyler Newman, president and CEO of BASE, in an email Wednesday. 

Going forward, he said, BASE's request "continues to be that new project submittals are analyzed using both the new code and existing code so applicants and the City have a better understanding of how the new code will be applied in the real world. As issues are identified, they need to be addressed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, some of the major changes (regulating Bradley Creek as SA [shellfish] waters, removing UMX [Urban Mixed Use] as an option outside the 1945 corporate limits, regulating trees greater than 4”) are going to kill a deal and deter potential investment before it even gets to that stage."

In response to the comparison request, Glenn Harbeck, the city's director of planning, development and transportation, on Wednesday said, "Whenever a project comes through the door, we evaluate it both on the existing code as well as the proposed code so that we have a better idea of how the code will function...and so far we have not identified any glitches in that regard."

He said the purpose of the Bradley Creek measure is to treat the Bradley Creek watershed the same as every other watershed in the city.

"It’s not about changing the classification of the water; it's about just making sure that new developments coming in abide by the same standards that everywhere else abides by," Harbeck said.

He said it was a mistake to ever allow UMX zoning outside the 1945 corporate city limits.

"They were never intended to be applied in a suburban context," Harbeck said.

On trees, Harbeck said, "We still haven’t gone as far with the trees as some would like us to go. But we definitely tried to move the needle in the direction of a little bit better tree preservation."

Officials in the city's release pointed out that the rewrite was preceded by input from thousands of residents.

"Participants in the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan and subsequent public engagement opportunities expressed desires to improve traffic conditions, make the city more walkable and bike friendly, protect and grow the city’s tree canopy and preserve Wilmington’s identity as a historic coastal community, while also developing and elevating our parks, public spaces, and the services and recreational offerings available to the community," the release stated.

The release shared examples, stating that the code includes language that helps:
  • Reduce sprawl by encouraging the redevelopment of vacant or underutilized properties in the city. 
  • Locate residential housing closer to retail, restaurants, other services, and offices.
  • Make tree replacement and tree preservation a priority to grow Wilmington’s urban tree canopy.
  • Encourage the on-site management of stormwater runoff and structured parking instead of expansive surface parking along major roads. 
Changes can be made to the LDC between now and Dec. 1 and even after Dec. 1, Harbeck said. 

Additionally, he said, "any project that is submitted into the entitlement pipeline prior to Dec. 1 would come under the existing code unless the developer sees advantages to going with the new code; then he may want to just hold off entering the pipeline until after Dec. 1."
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