The 18-acre rezoning request will now head to the county commissioners

BURGAW -- Although voicing some concerns, the Pender County Planning Board Wednesday approved a conditional rezoning request for 49 single-family homes on an 18-acre site between Deerfield and Washington Acres in Hampstead.

The board, which plays an advisory role to the county commissioners, voted in the affirmative with some apparent reluctance, voicing worries about stormwater runoff, protecting surrounding property values, and the long-term future of a Hampstead community that seems on the verge of explosive over development.

But the developer had an ace showing and at least one more still to play.

The ace in open view was a nimble willingness to amend the plan to woo both the board and the surrounding neighbors. After the planning board’s August meeting was continued, RHH Land Investors held a second public meeting on its proposed development, and the subtle changes to lot size and buffer zones in the amended plan seemed to largely mollify what had been generally skeptical neighbors.

The hidden card? The indisputable specter of the development to come should this application fail. A developer -- this one, or, probably, another -- could build nearly as many homes (47) on this property by right, without having to take governmental guidance or neighborhood concerns into consideration.

Despite its apparent reluctance, the board also conceded to nearly all the developer’s concerns on Wednesday. A public-access condition regarding open space was abandoned; a perimeter fence was scuttled; smaller peripheral lots were allowed, and two lots that were still listed at 12,000-square feet were even decreased in size in favor of additional buffering to neighboring properties.

Representatives for the developer rejected a board attempt late in the meeting to trade two fewer lots for agreeing to these concessions. The rejection was immediately supported by reiterating the by-right alternative to approval -- 47 lots with nearly zero public input.

The planning board, which approved the rezoning request 6-1, with Elaine Nalee opposed, is not the final arbiter of these requests. The application now goes before the Pender County Commissioners at their Oct. 15 meeting.

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