WB and Wilmington say no to Galleria de-annexation

by Cole Dittmer and Sam Wilson
Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Staff photo by Benton Sampson

The Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen passed a resolution not supporting a request to de-annex the Galleria on Wrightsville Avenue.

 The Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a resolution not supporting a request to de-annex the 12.2 acres of property known as the Galleria on Wrightsville Avenue. Requested by State Street Companies, the developer interested in purchasing the land, the de-annexation request was made because the developer planned to build a multi-use project on the site. 

Traditionally the town of Wrightsville Beach has not supported any residential developments on its annexed properties west of the Heide Trask Drawbridge because it would create a voting base on the mainland. 

State Street Companies representative attorney Michael Lee said the land was no longer viable for a solely commercial development and that only a multi-use development would work.
Lee also argued that the current annual property tax total of just more than $7,000 that the town collects was not a significant portion of the town’s total $10.6 million budget.

During the meeting’s public hearing, seven Wrightsville Beach residents spoke against the de-annexation, including former Wrightsville Beach Aldermen Lisa Weeks and Bill Golder. 

After having been a part of recent town budget sessions Weeks said she could not make any sense of a decision that would give up tax revenue and that the town should hold on giving up any commercial property. 

Golder urged town leaders to work with the developer to see if compromises could be met in respect to the town’s zoning codes. Golder also said he heard the argument that the town would lose voting control in the 1960s when the town was considering annexing Harbor Island. 

“We are not going to lose our control, they are simply not going to have that many people over there,” Golder said. “Let’s change our zoning to work with these people and say we want you, we love you and we love your tax base.”

Harbor Island resident Jim Smith said he was concerned about the precedent a de-annexation could set, especially concerning the ABC Store next to the Galleria property, which is also on Wrightsville Beach property. 

Another suggestion that a few members of the board of aldermen were interested in was Wrightsville Beach resident Dr. John Powell’s idea for the area to be bought by the New Hanover County Board of Education to build a new, larger school that would take the place of the existing Wrightsville Beach Elementary School. Powell also said he was wary of handing over control of the land to the Wilmington City Council. 

“You can see [Wilmington City Council] doesn’t always use common sense,” Powell said. “They said they would not issue a certificate of occupancy for Mayfaire before Military Cutoff Road was renovated and you know that is not how it went.”

Jeff Kentner, president of State Street Companies as well as a Wrightsville Beach property owner, was present at the public hearing and said he would rather develop the project within the town of Wrightsville Beach jurisdiction and that he would be willing to work with the town to develop a new planning zone for mixed use.

“Whether this land is in Wilmington or Wrightsville Beach I believe Wrightsville Beach would benefit from a sophisticated multi-use development in that area,” Kentner said. 

When it came time for the board of aldermen to make a decision, Alderman Darryl Mills said he would like for the whole process to slow down so a group could be formed to weigh the pros and cons and feasibility of each option open to the town for redevelopment, annexation or de-annexation. 

Mayor David Cignotti, Mayor Pro Tem Bill Sisson and Alderwoman Elizabeth King also agreed with Mills that State Street was a desirable partner and developer. After voting unanimously to not support the de-annexation request, the board urged Kentner to reach out to the town to develop some compromises. 

The ultimate decision of whether or not the property is de-annexed rests with the North Carolina General Assembly, however, and Cignotti said he knew the developer had already asked a local delegate to begin the process of introducing a de-annexation bill. 

Attorney Michael Lee said State Street was hoping for support from the town because the NCGA looks upon de-annexation requests more favorably when all municipalities involved consent. 

The following day, Wilmington City Council did not reach a quorum at its Friday, June 28 special meeting to discuss the de-annexation of the Galleria from the corporate limits of the Town of Wrightsville Beach. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and Councilman Kevin O’Grady were present to announce that because of the actions of the Wrightsville Beach Board of Alderman, city council would not pursue the issue further despite having called the meeting to support the de-annexation.

These stories were originally posted online on www.LuminaNews.com  on June 27 and 28.

email cole@luminanews.com  or sam@luminanews.com 

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