My Turn: Uncertainty continues in economic development - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

My Turn: Uncertainty continues in economic development

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I'm not an economic development expert.  But over the years I've served on enough boards and committees to learn a little about the subject.  I can tell you with certainty that the one thing sure to stymie economic development is uncertainty.

We have that going on right now on two fronts…the New Hanover County Special Use Permit and the debate over the state's film incentives. 

The county currently has a special use permit in place that is so vague many potential businesses are scared away by the uncertainty and simply move on. 

The county staff, with plenty of opportunity for input from the public, drafted amendments that would tighten up and better define the permitting process.  However, the County Planning Commission punted on the opportunity to vote on those amendments and shoved that decision to somewhere into the future.  So what does that leave us with?  More uncertainty.

And the state's film incentive…for an industry that must plan many months ahead of when production actually begins to take place, we should never find ourselves putting those decision makers into a position of not knowing what the rules are going to be.   

For me, there just doesn't seem to be any sense of urgency here.  It feels a little like the story where Nero is said to be fiddling while Rome burns.  If I recall correctly, that didn't have a happy ending for Nero or his people. 

That's my turn.  Now it's your turn.  To comment on this segment, or anything else, email me at  


Emailed response from viewers:

I just got a chance to view your "Your Turn, My Turn" segment from the other night on the special use permit and the film incentives.

I really appreciate you saying what you said regarding the special use permit changes which staff has proposed.  A lot of work has gone into that process over the last 6 months, and we were really disappointed that the Planning Board didn't see fit to make a recommendation on the staff's proposal.  Nonetheless, we'll be back out at the next meeting, supporting the staff's changes, which hopefully will be approved largely intact.

The key issue, as you said, is uncertainty.  All our outside experts tell us that our open-ended, non-time-constrained process is simply too risky for any business that has a choice – either a choice to locate elsewhere, or a choice to expand elsewhere.  I think many on the other side of the issue believe that the vague, open-ended, subject method of making land use decisions is a good thing, because it allows for a long, drawn out "community consensus-building discussion" over where a business will be allowed to locate or expand here.  In the real world, however, we won't get those opportunities, because those business will not (and cannot afford to) wait around for our community to reach a consensus.

Finally, the folks on the other side of this issue are spreading the word that the staff's changes would remove from the hands of our local leaders the power to examine a project's negative effects.  That is simply false.  Of course our commissioners and planning board members will be able to examine any and every piece of evidence they believe is relevant to the required findings for a special use permit.  It is their job to examine all such evidence before they can issue a permit.  All the staff's proposal would do is to eliminate the opportunity for the planning staff to bottle up a permit application through endless requests for more studies, more data, more tests, before even allowing the permit application to be considered by the boards.  That is not good government, and the staff's proposal seeks to fix that.

If you decide to do another segment on this and need any information – whether about how our ordinance works or how other ordinances work around the state (hint:  most of them are much more objective than ours) – please let me know and I can provide lots of good information.  Again, I really appreciate you mentioning this issue.  These changes that staff is proposing really are a bare minimum, and just about the most non-substantive changes that we could propose to the SUP process – and yet some in our community have either misunderstood it to be – or misrepresented it to be – something much more sinister than it really is.

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