Restrooms still an issue at Port City Marina two years later

Restrooms still an issue at Port City Marina two years later

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Just a few hundred yards from where the Pier 33 apartment complex is preparing to break ground, a long-running dispute between the City of Wilmington and a waterfront developer continues.

The latest issue is with temporary facilities at Port City Marina. The city confirmed the facilities are in violation of New Hanover County building code, FEMA floodplain regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Two modular or temporary structures are on the site. One is being used for the marina’s office and the other is for the restrooms.

A county spokesperson said neither of the structures have been inspected or approved by the building safety department.

Even a temporary structure must comply with building codes and floodplain regulations, a city spokesperson said. Structures must be at least 11 feet above sea level, and those below that level must be “flood-proofed to the maximum extent possible.”

Chuck Schoninger of USA InvestCo, the primary developer, says putting those requirements on a temporary restroom is “absurd.”

Schoninger said he and his team have tried to meet the city’s requirements by allowing the public to use the restrooms at Marina Grill, and added the temporary facility to serve marina customers rather than forcing people to walk all the way to the nearby hotel.

“It’s not the perfect, permanent solution,” said Schoninger, who added that in his mind, a permanent structure doesn’t make sense.

He said the plan is to use part of the Pier 33 development as the marina’s offices and to have public restrooms in that facility.

However, he said he could not foresee the delays in construction with that project, so he’s been trying to make do with the resources he has available.

“Downtown construction is just not easy,” he said.

The temporary restrooms in question sit a few feet above the ground. FEMA and county regulations would require that facility be lifted higher off the ground in order to be compliant with the 11-foot minimum.

A permanent structure with flood-mitigation engineering could be constructed, but Schoninger said he doesn’t want to spend the $200,000-$300,000 he thinks it would cost to do that.

According to documents found by WECT, the facility is also under investigation by the North Carolina Department of Insurance for not meeting ADA accessibility requirements. Schoninger said because the temporary restrooms are for private business — not the public’s use — that he isn’t concerned about those complaints.

Schoninger compared the facilities to those on a construction site, but said his team is not trying to “skate around any laws." He said he would close down the facilities if the city requires.

The relationship between the city and USA InvestCo, otherwise known as NRHM LLLP, has been a rocky one. In 2018, the city issued an ultimatum for the company to install public restroom facilities at Port City Marina as part of an agreement dating back more than two years.

City spokesperson Dylan Lee said negotiations for the permanent public restroom facility are ongoing.

Schoninger blamed the dispute on delays with the Pier 33 project. If he had known it wouldn’t start construction until this spring, he said, he would have thought of a different solution than the temporary bathrooms or put together a different sale agreement.

“I’m not happy either,” he said.

Records show none of the required permits were taken out by Schoninger and his team before the temporary restrooms were installed, and there have been numerous complaints dating back to 2016 about the lack of accessibility for handicapped persons. On the permits taken out after the units were installed, county staff indicated the units must meet floodplain requirements and be inspected.

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