WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - It was standing room only Wednesday in Wilmington City Council Chambers, for what is typically a mundane and poorly attended review hearing. Dozens of Echo Farms residents turned out to protest a developer's plans to convert their golf course into hundreds of residential town homes.
One protester said if this attempt was successful, it would be the "poster child for development gone wrong." He was one of many residents who stood up to speak during the 2 ½ hour long meeting of the Subdivision Review Board.
Residents were concerned that this development would destroy the fabric of their golf course community, increase traffic congestion along Carolina Beach Road, and exacerbate existing drainage problems in their community.
"What we are asking you to do is the right thing. And the one right thing to do in this case, is to say no to the houses, and keep the golf course," one resident said at the podium before the review board.
Another neighbor from Echo Farms, John Hirshak, said they have good reason to be concerned about their property values, after seeing what happened in other parts of the country where neighborhood golf courses were converted to housing.
"This has happened, if you look down in Palm Springs, out in Arizona, this has happened, and it's had a detrimental effect on the existing homes. It's proven, 10-30 percent loss in value."
An out-of-state developer bought the golf course portion of Echo Farms years ago. The land, owned by Matrix Development Corporation, is already zoned for residential use. The golf course is apparently not profitable, and the owner is looking to convert it to something that would be.
Residents said the golf course has been the centerpiece of their neighborhood since the 1970s. Some in Echo Farms are asking for the developer to let them buy the golf course land instead of redeveloping it.
Over a dozen people from the development and commercial real estate industry also attended the hearing, hoping to push the development forward. One advocate said these proceedings were "concerning to the development community…[because] it's important to have the ability to rely on the city to follow established processes for planning and development review."
Sam Franck, an attorney for the developer, asked the review board to remain focused on matters in their jurisdiction, arguing that the residents' concerns were outside of the Zoning Review Board's purview. An attorney and staff members for the City of Wilmington agreed, explaining that the board was simply supposed to consider the technical aspects of the proposed subdivision, like sidewalks and open space.
Residents' arguments that the developer's plans were incomplete also fell flat, when staff said preliminary plans were acceptable at this stage in the review process.
The review board ultimately voted unanimously to approve the preliminary plans, saying the developer had fulfilled the technical requirements. They did add a few stipulations for issues with sidewalks, drainage and access to be addressed.
Hope is not lost yet for those looking to stop the proposed development of the golf course land. They have filed a lawsuit to stop the developer on grounds the proposed changes violate the neighborhood's restrictive covenants. They are also asking the city to change the zoning designation for the golf course so it could not be densely developed. Additionally, City Council will get to vote on whether the proposed residential plans should proceed.