Protecting Point Peter

The Historic Wilmington Foundation is dedicated to protecting the integrity of cultural resources on the western bank of the Cape Fear River and Northeast Cape Fear River. 

A broad coalition of nonprofit organizations, scientists, and advocates opposes a text amendment to New Hanover County’s Unified Land Development Code establishing a new zoning district called “Riverfront Urban Mixed-Use” on the west bank of the Cape Fear River. Citing future burdens on public infrastructure, environmental concerns, and protecting cultural resources, the coalition includes the Brunswick County Chapter of the NAACP, Cape Fear Group of the Sierra Club, Cape Fear River Assembly, Cape Fear River Watch, Coastal Plain Conservation Group, Historic Wilmington Foundation, Lower Cape Fear League of Women Voters, New Hanover County Chapter of the NAACP, and the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

The proposed zoning district is in direct conflict with Article 9 of New Hanover County’s Unified Development Ordinance. Article 9’s purpose is “to promote health, safety, and general welfare, and to minimize public and private losses due to flood conditions within flood prone areas.” Any high-impact, urban development at Point Peter would dramatically increase expenditures of public money for flood control projects, flood damage recovery, and floodplain restoration. Point Peter and the subject property is within an active, FEMA-designated floodplain, making the proposed zoning district vulnerable to floods, storm surge, and sea level rise. Most of the subject property is below base flood elevation of 9 feet, including areas near the junction of the Cape Fear River and Northeast Cape Fear River that are less than 5 feet in elevation. The increased number of high tide flooding events occurring in the Cape Fear River and Northeast Cape Fear River highlight the short-sighted nature of this proposed development. Three 500-year flood events have occurred in Wilmington since 1999 and two in the last 5 years. Additionally, NOAA projects 1 – 3 feet of sea level rise in Wilmington by 2060. Further, allowing intense, urban development along the primary nursery grounds will destroy the natural shoreline, thus harming and displacing wildlife, including habitats vital for the threatened striped bass, endangered sturgeon, and other threatened and endangered bird populations. 

Photo Credit: Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper

Effects on Cultural Resources

The proposed zoning district would block viewsheds of the USS North Carolina, one of two National Historic Landmarks in New Hanover County and the state’s memorial to 11,000 service personnel who gave the ultimate sacrifice during World War II. Other municipalities employ prescriptive zoning measures, such as height restrictions and setbacks, to protect viewsheds of cultural resources. Beyond concerns related to the viewshed, the development of Point Peter would affect flooding events at the Battleship. Currently, the USS North Carolina is completing a flood resilience project called “Living With Water,” which is supported by the National Center for Coastal and Ocean Science, among others. Other cultural resources that warrant protections include the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor and archeological resource 31NH597 as recorded by the Office of State Archaeology.

Current Advocacy

In February of 2022, KJF Development Group asked the Town of Leland to consider a voluntary annexation of Point Peter. Additionally, the KJF Development Group asked the Leland Planning Board to consider a text amendment for the Town of Leland’s Code of Ordinances to establish Riverfront Urban Mixed-Use District. 

On March 17th, the Leland Town Council unanimously approved Resolution R-22-033, which directed the Leland Town Clerk to investigate a petition for the voluntary annexation of approximately 8.34-acres of Point Peter. This was largely an administrative procedure. On March 22nd, the Leland Planning Board voted 4-3 recommending the Leland Town Council establish a Riverfront Urban Mixed-Use District with a height restriction of 240 feet. Additionally, the Leland Planning Board voted 4-3 recommending that Leland Town Council zone Point Peter to Riverfront Urban Mixed-Use should the property be voluntarily annexed to the Town of Leland.

New Hanover County held a work session on the west bank of the Cape Fear River on March 31st at 2 PM. HWF released a statement following the work session, which stated: “The Historic Wilmington Foundation (HWF) shares the New Hanover County Commissioners’ concerns about the unintended consequences of urban development on Point Peter to surrounding properties, particularly the USS North Carolina and Wilmington National Register Historic District. Flooding, exacerbated by introduced, impervious surfaces on Point Peter must be carefully assessed before decisions are rendered about the rezoning of Point Peter. Scientific evidence presented during the work session indicated flooding may be exacerbated at Battleship Park and downtown Wilmington. A common refrain during the work session was ‘the water has to go somewhere.’ As a memorial to the over 11,000 North Carolinians who gave the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation during WWII, New Hanover County bears responsibility to preserve the Battleship’s setting and protect access to the historic site.”

The New Hanover County Commissioners directed planning staff to form several options for the rezoning of Point Peter and other western bank parcels. These options shall represent the spectrum of possibilities, from high-density development to conservation.