Retirement community rallies against townhomes

July 18, 2021
Plans for 16 townhome units on Carolina Beach Road face headstrong opposition from an adjacent retirement community eager to see their neighborhood stay the same. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY——A proposal to build four townhome buildings with 16 total units — on a small piece of land less than a mile north of Snow’s Cut Bridge on Carolina Beach Road — has attracted fervent pushback from the adjacent 55-and-over community. 

The 1.5-acre parcel is part of a forested area tucked between single-family neighborhoods, one of those being Capeside Village, a retirement community established in 1993 where the average age of residents is 74. 

It’s currently R-15 but the developer is seeking to gain approval to get it rezoned for community mixed-use within a conditional zoning district.

Cindee Wolf, a local land-use consultant with experience representing development proposals of all stripes, is backing the project. In her pitch for these townhomes, she contends that undeveloped tracts fronting Carolina Beach Road, like this one, are no longer attractive for single-family proposals. These infill development sites would benefit from a higher density, which in turn could boost affordability, according to the townhome rezoning application. 

The proposal comes as both New Hanover County and Wilmington look for long-term solutions to a housing affordability crisis that has sparked calls for a housing bond and other intensive measures. Infill development has been championed by planners as a way to generate more housing options, at a time when large undeveloped tracts of land are at a premium in New Hanover County, and all but extinct in the city.

But for the people of Capeside Village, the townhome proposal has been received as a bad omen. Fred Ebbinhouser, the informally appointed representative of the Capeside Village community, wrote to Wolf to convey as such. 

“I hope you took the opportunity to drive around our community to see what 30 years of independent seniors can accomplish,” Ebbinhouser wrote in his letter, according to the application package. “We take great pride in our community and are ready, willing, and able to fight using all legal means to protect our homes, health and rights.”

After Wolf sent notice to nearby property owners that there would be a rezoning request for her client’s townhome project — a standard step in the development process — the Capeside Village community prepped their opposition. 

The president of the owners’ association called an emergency meeting, “where the community voted to form a petition committee in opposition to the project and research hiring an attorney specializing in land use and zoning issues,” according to Ebbinhouser’s letter. They gathered 91 signatures in protest of the townhomes. 

Drainage issues, proximity to wetlands and stormwater management form the basis of Capeside Village’s resistance to the townhomes and general NIMBY concerns. 

“We wish no ill will to any neighbor nor do we wish to infringe on anyone’s rights,” reads the letter. “When our homes, rights, health, community and lifestyle are threatened by whatever means we do not take it lightly or sit by without protest or response.” The letter continues, asking Wolf to “Cease and Desist” the rezoning application. 

After the meeting between the developers and nearby property owners, Wolf stated “the developers are pro-actively reviewing the soils and preliminary stormwater management design,” but no changes were made to the concept layout. 

The planning board will consider the townhome application August 5. 

Outlined in blue is the site of the proposed townhomes. Carolina Beach Road is shown to the right of the site, while Capeside Village is shown at bottom left. (Port City Daily)

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