WILMINGTON — A plan is in the works to turn 10 acres of swampland and woods off Market Street, across from the Goody Goody Omelet House, into a four-building residential complex. While the project has cleared the city’s planning commission, it’s still facing opposition on the way to City Council.

David Spetrino, director of special projects at PBC Design +Build, is spearheading the development, which would involve creating 192 units, most of them single bedroom. 

Last week, Spetrino presented the project to the Wilmington Planning Commission, who approved the proposal in a 6-0 vote. He requested that the plot be rezoned to allow him to build residences on the land. Originally the site was zoned for Commercial Services. There will be a public hearing on Aug. 19 to discuss the project and, eventually, the application will be presented to the City Council.

“It’d be a whole lot easier to go to Castle Hayne or to go to Leland, buy ten acres, and put the same number of units on half as much land, with half as much effort,” Spetrino said. “And that’s why I think we’re in it for the reasons we are.”

Wetland area of the 10-acre parcel. (Port City Daily photo / Preston Lennon)

The parcel of land includes a 5-acre freshwater swamp forest, which will be preserved. Spetrino said he intends to minimize the project’s footprint by converting only nine percent of the land into impervious area (i.e. surfaces like parking lots and building roofs that can’t absorb rainwater and contribute to flooding issues). Spetrino said he plans to place parking garages under the buildings, and to focus on building upward rather than outward.

A rendering of the future residential buildings, included in the application submitted to the Wilmington Planning Commission. (Port City Daily image / City of Wilmington)

“I cannot give you affordability, I cannot give you workforce housing, I cannot give you small footprints, I cannot give you 90 percent open space — if I don’t create height,” he said.

Thomas West — an owner of the Cinema Drive Office Park, located across the street from the proposed project — opposed Spetrino’s plan at the meeting, as did Matt Nichols, Wests’ attorney. 

“There’s so many unknowns here, and it’s certainly not ready to move forward to City Council,” Nichols said. “We respectfully request that you deny this.”

The opposition involves worries about the lack of a stormwater management plan (which Spetrino said is in the works), and concerns over the influx of traffic the new buildings would bring (Spetrino said Wests’ estimates of car trips in the area are highly inflated). 

Nichols declined to answer questions about his client’s opposition to the development, and West did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources said the site will require a stormwater management plan, and probably a review from the Division of Water Resources. 

Existing stormwater pond near the property. (Port City Daily photo / Preston Lennon)

West said he has concerns over how Spetrino ambiguously discussed the stormwater plan in the application, in which it says: “Designs for on-site stormwater management would be reviewed for compliance with the city’s stormwater management regulations.”

“Given that a large amount of our site will remain undisturbed we will be able to rely on using vegetation to manage and filter that water naturally as it works its way back into the natural ecology,” Spetrino said. 

Spetrino said he constantly deals with neighbors and their anxieties, but usually those who question his projects are homeowners, not business owners. 

“For me to neutralize them, they want something in return. And so I’m usually having to give them something or do something, and I have to do this kind of horse-trading with them,” he said. “Some people are anti-development.”

Usually, Spetrino said, this back-and-forth involves hearing requests from community members who might be wary of prolonged construction in their area. West, however, isn’t asking for any perks or services, Spetrino said. He’s asking the City to fend off Spetrino from developing the area. 

“He’s not asking for anything, which is so unusual,” Spetrino said. “He’s asking for nothing to happen.”

Wilmington Fire Department Fire Station No. 3. (Port City Daily photo / Preston Lennon)

Opponents of the project also say it will impact access to Station No. 3 of the Wilmington Fire Department, which sits across the street from the lot. 

Spetrino said he talked with WFD Chief Buddy Martinette about how the construction period would affect the Fire Department’s ability to commute in and out of the station. Martinette doesn’t think the project would cause any issues. 

“The proposed access route, as indicated on preliminary drawings, will in no way inhibit fire apparatus from either leaving or returning to the station and would even, in my opinion, improve the view shed on both sides of the new road,” Martinette said.

The “new road” Martinette mentioned is a proposed link between Wetsig, a private street, and Cinema Drive. Spetrino said he’s currently negotiating with the City to make it happen, and that adding a street is critical to making the project work, as it would decrease the traffic burden in the area. 

Nichols and West disagreed, and said that adding a street would increase vehicle congestion and exacerbate an existing traffic problem.

“I don’t want a road 20 feet from my buildings, with noise, maintenances required,” West said at the planning commission. “And I think this is just not a good application for the design that’s been presented.”

Spetrino countered: “He’s kind of old school though, he’s retired, and he really has no right to oppose this project,” he said. “But he doesn’t want anything to change, and he’s been very comfortable where he is.”

Send comments to the reporter: Preston@localdailymedia.com

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