Smart, Responsible Development is key for New Hanover County
By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
New Hanover County is changing. Our population is growing, the needs of residents to be more connected and have different housing options is evolving, and our development landscape is moving to a more focused approach on smart growth and density.
And while change is constant, it is how we manage through those changes, adapt and grow that is the key.
I believe New Hanover County’s Planning and Land Use Department has done that, and will continue to.
With the support and approval of the Board of Commissioners, they have finalized the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), a complete reorganization of the county’s land use and zoning codes into one easy-to-use document that is reflective of the county’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan. The UDO also includes eight new zoning districts that allow for more diversity in development options and reduce the uncertainty for residents about potential impacts from general district rezonings; and it upgrades out-of-date zoning tools so they are better understood by the development community and are easier to use.
The work of our Planning and Land Use staff continues this month when they present to the Board of Commissioners on November 16 the final ordinance change associated with the UDO project, focused on tree protections and other modernizations and refinements of the county’s regulations to, among other things, provide more clarity and consistency.
This is the culmination of thorough research and reviews, community input, and stakeholder meetings, and the final product is a coherent and specific plan of how the county will help ensure smart, responsible development in the unincorporated areas of New Hanover County. I think it will open more doors for good projects that can utilize the new land use tools available to them.
I appreciate the support and expertise of the Planning Board and Board of Commissioners throughout this process, along with our Planning staff. Much of the in-depth work has been led by Rebekah Roth, who has served as senior planner and is now our interim planning director, and Wayne Clark, who formerly served as planning director. The two of them have worked hand-in-hand and have positioned the county’s Planning and Land Use Department on really solid footing.
Wayne recently left the county to return to Florida, where his family is, and I asked Rebekah to serve as interim because I am confident in her work to continue moving our planning team forward, working with the community and working with our development partners.
At this time, I don’t plan to begin recruiting a new director until early 2021, with the holidays coming up and because of Rebekah’s expertise and leadership that is already in place.
Rebekah has led, for the past four years, our long range planning team’s implementation of the 2016 Comprehensive Plan and has played a senior role in coordinating with our partners at CFPUA, the WMPO, and New Hanover County Schools on planning for future community infrastructure needs. She also brings an extensive background in current planning and zoning administration through her eight-plus years of work with the Town of Burgaw where she was responsible for the full range of the planning process – from comprehensive plan development to permitting and zoning compliance.
I believe with our team, and the planning and land use framework and updates that are now nearly complete, this is an opportune time for development in New Hanover County.
We have also strategically implemented additional programs and initiatives to further support smart development, including a new Stormwater Services Program that began this year to help address persistent flooding in the unincorporated county, greater efficiencies in building permitting (including remote inspections), enhanced involvement of our Building Safety Department to hear concerns and improvement suggestions directly from stakeholders, a COAST development portal for customers to submit applications and obtain permits in a more streamlined way, and more.
New Hanover County has created an environment for smart, intentional, and responsible development, and I believe we are poised to be successful in our changing landscape – both now and in the years to come.