It was standing room only at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse as county commissioners voted down a long list of proposed changes to its special use permit process.
Commissioners were split 2-2 on the decision. Thomas Wolfe and Woody White voted to change the process, while Beth Dawson and Jonathan Barfield voted against them.
This means the ordinance will remain as written. The move would have made it easier for "heavy industry" businesses to come to New Hanover County.
Originally drawn up in 2011, the special use permits process was developed as part of the county's zoning ordinance improvement effort.
The county ordinance forced industrial business applicants to file for multiple permits, pass through the planning board, and go through two public hearings before commissioners gave final approval.
Economic developers and business leaders have said the SUP process is bad for business because of all the red tape in the process.
A recent study by Atlanta-based Garner Economics suggested that county leaders should eliminate the permit entirely because it would deter businesses from moving to the county.
Instead, county leaders only voted on minor text changes to clarify language for modification and expansion of industrial uses within the county. Meaning, the policy itself was never up for elimination. The same regulations would still have applied to new industries looking to build in New Hanover County.
If approved, the list of amendments to the ordinance would have clarified the rules and offered more predictability for applicants seeking business permits.
After the vote was made, environmentalists said they were pleased with the board's decision.
Ashley Daniels, 28, was born in Leland and has been involved with environmental awareness groups in the Cape Fear region for her whole life.
"I don't think anyone is against progress or business," said Daniels. "But at the end of the day we all want a say in how things are done. We understand that regulations need to be in place."
After Monday's vote, the proposed changes are off the table. However, commissioners can revisit this issue in the future.
Connie Majure-Rhett, CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said this vote definitely scared away potential businesses.
Majure-Rhett said that many people think these permit changes would've brought big polluting industries into town, when really that is not the case. She elaborated that she respects the county commissioners, but last night she thinks they made a big mistake.
"We're concerned about our economy. It's growing finally but we really took a huge hit, you know and we need to do everything we can while protecting our environment, but making themselves attractive to business," said Majure-Rhett.
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