Not everyone happy about proposed redevelopment of old Oleander Dr. movie theater

Updated: Apr. 16, 2019 at 3:13 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - After years of sitting vacant, the former movie theater on Oleander Drive may be getting a new life as a mixed-use development.

Tuesday, the Wilmington City Council will consider a rezoning request to change the classification of 5335 and 5429 Oleander Drive from community business to office and Institutional, with conditions.

Plans for the future of the former movie theater site on Oleander Drive depict three four-story...
Plans for the future of the former movie theater site on Oleander Drive depict three four-story buildings (Source: City of Wilmington).

The former theater would be transformed into a mixed-use development with residential and commercial components. The plan includes three four-story buildings with a total of 223 apartment units, one to three beds each, as well as 5,600 square feet of commercial space.

Neighbors on Hawthorne Road said they’re adamantly against the project. They said people already cut and speed through their street, and think the development would only make things worse.

Not everyone is against it, though. Anthony Garguilo, co-general manager of Tidal Creek that sits in the same complex the proposed project would be built in, said the development would mean more customers.

“It’s going to be fantastic for our business. We expect our prepared foods to be the most impacted and we will be making adjustments to our business to accommodate the folks," he said.

“It has basically been a constant low-grade concern about what is going to go in there and how it is going to impact our business. So, when we found out for definite and who the developer was, it was a tremendous relief. It was probably the first good night’s sleep I’ve had since I’ve been managing the store," Garguilo said.

Michael Lee, who has represented other developments like The Avenue, represented the development when it came before the Wilmington Planning Commission.

During that meeting on March 20, the project received a 5-1 vote for recommendation, and no comments were made during the public hearing.

At Monday’s agenda briefing, council members asked about the conditions the city staff is recommending, particularly the ones dealing with traffic.

The original recommendations had the site including a vehicle connection to allow ingress and egress onto French Road. During the presentation to the Planning Commission, Lee said that could lead motorists to use the development as a “cut through” to other thoroughfares such as Wrightsville Avenue.

The increase in traffic is the main concern, and was the reason the planning commission’s decision was not unanimous.

Council member Charlie Rivenbark says there may be some push-back from surrounding property owners about the increase in traffic.

“There’s going to be a little heartburn about that from some of the neighbors, and we’ll flesh that out (Tuesday) night and see what we can come up with," Rivenbark said.

To compromise, the commission and council suggest the development provide pedestrian and bicycle connectivity to French Road instead.

Additionally, Lee said the developers have petitioned the North Carolina Department of Transportation to allow the installation of a traffic signal he said would not only aid with the development, but also traffic from surrounding businesses where motorists struggle to exit onto Oleander.

According to the staff report, the city believes the development aligns with the desire to create live-work areas throughout the city.

Rivenbark says after sitting vacant for so long, this will be an improvement.

“I think it’s a good project,” he said. "That old cinema building, it’s beyond its use. It’s going to come down and become a very nice development through there.”

Rivenbark also said he thinks the reduction in paved surfaces on the site will be an improvement for the stormwater system.

The council will vote on the rezoning request at its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 16 at 6:30 p.m.

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