Developer appeals planning commission decision on Hooker Road development; neighbors vow to continue fighting

Developer appeals planning commission decision on Hooker Road development

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A developer hoping to turn a 10-acre mobile home park into a subdivision isn’t giving up — but neither are the neighbors who oppose his project.

Howard Penton of Penton Development appealed the May 1 Wilmington Planning Commission denying his rezoning request and application for a special use permit.

The project, which has now twice been denied by the commission, would turn the 10.73 acre site into an 86-lot subdivision, with each small lot holding a single, one-bedroom home.

Timberlynn Village has been a mobile home park since 1968, with around 69 homes on the property.

In both cases, city staff said in their report that the plan for the development does not fit with the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan, and may cause traffic issues along Hooker Road as well.

At both meetings, Timberlynn Village residents and those who live in the single-family neighborhoods adjacent to the Hooker Road property turned out in large numbers to express their opposition, many wearing matching t-shirts bearing the phrase “Save Hooker Road.”

Many of the mobile home residents are fearful of their future, and told WECT they have nowhere else to go.

Penton and his team had the right to appeal the planning commission’s decision within 10 days. A city spokesperson said new materials have not been submitted, but the appeal will likely go before the Wilmington City Council in June or July.

Many of the neighbors have said they will continue to fight the development, because they don’t think the developer is making a good-faith effort to try to make changes to the design to address their concerns.

“How many times do you have to be turned down before you get the message that it’s not a good idea?" asked Robi Bennett, whose home backs up to the property, and who has been one of the leaders of the opposition.

“Revise the plan, work with the community. We’re easy to work with, and we want something nice ... just not rentals where we own our homes,” she said.

Bennett, along with the others fighting the project, have retained the services of an attorney. While they said that is helpful for the process, especially given the quasi-judicial nature of special use permit hearings, it’s expensive.

The group has paid between $5,000 and $6,000 in attorney fees so far, and said they expect to pay another $2,000 to $3,000 now that the issue has been appealed. When it was made known Penton would be making his case to the city council, the group even launched an online fundraising campaign.

Beyond their frustration with the development itself, the residents said Monday they are frustrated that this appeal is happening at all, especially given that the project has been denied twice already.

“What’s the point of having the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan, what’s the point of having the planning board, what’s the point of having people on city of Wilmington staff, if we’re not going to listen to the people that are the professionals on this?” Ed Wagenseller, another neighbor said.

Wagenseller said in his mind, if Penton is able to successfully appeal a plan that the planning commission has turned down twice, it will set a dangerous precedent.

“This isn’t just a Hooker Road issue,” he said, “this is a broader issue that’s going to impact all of Wilmington, because if we continue to set precedents of doing what is being done where it is not allowed, if I own a big tract of land somewhere, I’m going to go to the city and say, ‘Hey, you did it on Hooker Road, why can’t you do it for me?’”

Both Wagenseller and Bennett, both of whom are real estate professionals, said they wanted to stress they are not anti-growth, but just want things to be handled properly.

“I’m for growth in general, but I’m for smart growth,” Wagenseller said. “And I would like for [Wilmington] to see the smart growth continue."

He added: “Wilmington’s going to grow, and we just want it to grow in the right way.”

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