As Southport aldermen prepare to weigh the fate of the Indigo Plantation Phase 2 project this month, information obtained by the planning board will play a key role in the decision making process. The Southport Planning Board announced its recommendation to deny a pair of submissions from Indigo developers on July 21, sending its findings to the aldermen for a final rendering.
Planning Board Chairman Sue Hodgin provided the aldermen with a detailed analysis of the contributing factors that resulted in the denial of requests from East West Partners and Bald Head Island Limited, LLC, for approval of both a Planned Unit Development (PUD) master plan and a zoning map amendment from R-20 to PUD for the 346-acre site.
When the board was tasked with reviewing the proposals, chairman Hodgin created four subcommittees to look into specific aspects of a project looking to bring more than 1,500 new homes to Southport. Members of the traffic impact, environmental impact, infrastructure, and design and character subcommittees met regularly with the developers, requesting and going over documentation, maps and other types of information. Their findings resulted in the planning board’s decision.
“With the subcommittees’ findings and citations of inconsistencies with applicable city ordinance the planning board has determined the Indigo Plantation Phase II project, in a ‘big picture’ evaluation, does not add overall value to the health, safety or welfare of Southport and its citizenry,” Hodgin said.
The traffic impact subcommittee suggested that the board of aldermen “weigh heavily” on its findings which suggest the new Indigo development would lead to a significant increase in traffic in Southport, said Hodgin. The addition of so many vehicles, along with a lack of proper access points to the development and a need for more traffic signals, would strain the city’s roadways. The subcommittee recommended a proposed Department of Transportation traffic signal at 13th Street be moved to the intersection of 11th and Howe streets. The developers should be required to, as part of any development agreement, create a third access point to the project on 11th Street.
“The developer continually gave the subcommittee the comment, ‘Let us know what you would like and we’ll see if that works,’” said Hodgin. “It is the consensus of this subcommittee that the first two points should fall to the developer to solve and further fund.”
The subcommittee also agreed consideration has to be given to any potential evacuation of Southport due to a storm or nuclear incident, as the surrounding area continues to grow and bring more visitors to the city.
“There is no doubt that Southport will become a destination for all of these communities,” Hodgin said. “No doubt our traffic will continue to increase, even with the expansion of (N.C.) Highway 211.”
Questions of open space, drainage, habitat protection
The environmental subcommittee looked at weather protection, stormwater management, conservation of the habitat, and open space and density for each neighborhood development. Hodgin said the subcommittee noted several concerns in a meeting with developers that went unaddressed, including protection of wetlands, open space connectivity, open space calculations and storm inundation. The subcommittee found issues with the open space allocation and density for neighborhoods on the east side of the property, particularly around the marina area. When combined with all the parking requirements for restaurant and retail locations, the subcommittee questioned the amount of space that actually will be open.
“There doesn’t seem to be enough land to accommodate all of the uses and open space,” said Hodgin. “The number of lots within the neighborhoods ... cause concern due to the amount of impervious area of the individual lots. Questions regarding drainage patterns and habitat protection ... were part of the discussion but were not answered during the meetings.”
Hodgin said the large parcels of open space need to be connected with large corridors to meet the intent of the open space requirements, and the subcommittee discussed removing several lots to ensure adequate connectivity. The amount of impervious coverage also causes the development to be highly susceptible to inundation, especially from slow moving storms.
“Calculations of open space may not meet the requirements,” stated Hodgin. “The subcommittee feels there are more unanswered questions than those answered.”
Citizens want city to pay as little as possible
According to an infrastructure impact study released July 18, Hodgin said Indigo Phase 2 would net the city approximately $1.4 million in annual tax benefits. While water and sewer services will be provided to the development by Brunswick County at the developer’s expense, bringing electricity to the site requires a financial contribution from the city, Southport would partner with the developers on implementing the proper electricity infrastructure which is expected to cost approximately $3 million for a new substation. The investment, Hodgin said, decreases the monetary value of the site to Southport.
“The actual net (value) appears to be less than indicated by the studies,” said Hodgin. “Mathematically, there will be a gain of around $980 per housing unit. The subcommittee continues to ask if this price is worth the burden the increased population will place in so many ways on already strained Southport.”
Should aldermen approve the project, Hodgin said the overwhelming sentiment from citizens is that that city contribute as little money as possible.
“The citizens are vehemently not willing to pay for this,” Hodgin said. “The consensus of this subcommittee is for the city to reject the project that obligates any financing of the costs for upgrading infrastructure. The consensus of Southport citizens ... is for the city to bear none whatsoever of the developer’s costs of these infrastructure upgrades.”
Hodgin: documents ‘imprecise and insufficient’
The design and character subcommittee found the project had a lack of consistency with existing zoning districts, as well as with the city’s core land use plan. The subcommittee used Southport’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) regulations as a “fundamental criteria” to evaluate the PUD master plan request. The subcommittee, Hodgin said, found the project will “not result in any further benefits” to Southport and it goes beyond the density limits, which negatively impacts infrastructure, the environment, health care services and retail.
“It will deteriorate the manner in which Southport currently functions,” said Hodgin.
An additional point of egress/ingress would be needed in the proposed Marina Village due to the high number of homes. Documents requested by the subcommittee, Hodgin said, were “imprecise and insufficient,” and when asked for additional drawings and architectural guidelines, the developers cited added expense and the need for more time.
“The materials submitted does not suffice to determine and solidify the characteristics of the development,” Hodgin said. “In this subcommittee’s findings, the lots proposed in the Indigo project violate the dimensional standards ordinance.”
Information related to urban character and image, Hodgin said, was limited to a few out of context photographs and unrelated drawings that provided “insufficient information.”
“No architectural or engineering information was submitted as requested to review the consistency and impact of character and image of this development in relation to the surrounding areas,” said Hodgin. “The applicant stated said provision of that information would go beyond the scope of this review.”
‘Map amendments are not reasonable or in the public interest’
Based on the findings, Hodgin said it was possible to infer that the development would create a contrast in character within Southport and give the perception of overcrowding and congestion.
“The UDO mandates consistency and impact shall be fundamental criteria for the evaluation of a PUD,” Hodgin said. “The detailed reasoning causes this subcommittee to recommend that a PUD not be approved.”
Planning Board member Maureen Meehan made the board’s motion to deny the two requests, saying both zoning map amendments are inconsistent with the city’s 2015 CAMA Land Use Plan. The development also is inconsistent with the city’s future land use map that shows 80% of property as low density.
“The planning board believes that the zoning map amendments are not reasonable or in the public interest because the proposed density will put additional stress and negatively impact the traffic circulation, infrastructure and natural environment,” said Meehan. “The planning board recommends that the board of aldermen deny the zoning map amendment.”
The Southport Board of Aldermen’s monthly meeting is planned for 6 p.m. on Aug. 11 at the Southport Community Building.