Although it’ll be at least 2½ years before the first resident moves in, Gateway Wilmington appears on its way to the downtown riverfront. Wilmington City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to rezone 10 acres on the eastern banks of the Cape Fear River from industrial to riverfront mixed use, a classification that will open the door to the 11-story residential and retail complex there.In granting the rezoning, the council limited the number of condominium units allowed on the property to 260 and required that a parcel on the north side of the site be reserved as public open space, among other conditions.
The vote came after about two hours of discussion, with more than 100 people watching in the City Council Chambers at City Hall. The end result – after three Planning Commission meetings and two council meetings – was seen as a compromise between the much larger, poten¬tially more obtrusive project first proposed by developers and the project described Tuesday.
Wilmington Gateway LLC’s plans include 260 condominium units, a restaurant, 40 boat slips and first-floor retail space, which might include a small food market, coffee shop and hair salon, developer Ron Pickett said. The original proposal was three stories taller and included a hotel, office space and more residential and retail space, which would have generated about three times more traffic than the final product.“I think the system has worked,” Pickett said after the council vote. The next year, he said, would be spent refining the plan architecturally and seeking construction financing.“Hopefully, that will be enough (time) for the economy to turn,” Pickett said. The former industrial land in the shadows of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge was once the site of the American Molasses Company of North Carolina.Pickett said Gateway Wilmington would include “all the first-class features of a luxury project,” including concierge service, a swimming pool, exercise and theater rooms, and a green roof. He also vowed to extend the city’s Riverwalk through his project at his expense and give a swath of land on the northern end of the property to the city to use as a park or open space. Pickett said the smallest residential units in Gateway would be nearly 1,500 square feet and start at $389,000. The largest would be about 2,900 square feet and cost $1 million. Despite the 6-0 council vote – Councilman Ron Sparks didn’t vote because he doing engineering work on the project – the project had its detractors. Several downtown-area residents expressed concerns at the meeting that Gateway’s mass didn’t mesh with the historic character of downtown and about the 4,800 daily car trips it will spill onto downtown streets.“It looks like something that belongs on Myrtle Beach,” resident Gordon Robinson said. “I don’t think this is something we want our city to be.”Others urged the council to put off the decision again to refine the plans further.A number of people also spoke in favor of Gateway, saying it will add to the tax base, create jobs and stimulate growth on the south side of downtown, creating a “bookend” for that side of downtown much like the PPD headquarters does on the north side.“I think at the end of the day we have a much better project,” Mayor Bill Saffo said. “Is it going to please everybody? Obviously not.”
Written by Star News: Patrick Gannon 343-2328
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