Is development of the west bank of the Cape Fear inevitable? Both high density development proposals are still on the table

Flooding threatens proposed development on west bank of Cape Fear
Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 6:42 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Ten days ago, Battleship Road was inundated with a foot of running water. Scientists have videos of eels swimming over the center line as the saltwater rushed over the street and swept reeds into the woodline.

Even at low tide, the future site of the Wilmington Hotel and Spa is cause for concern for oceanographers.

“You can see all the signs of sea level: the dead trees, you have eels swimming on the road... that’s a good sign and then you have a broken up roadway that’s frequently needing repairs,” said Dr. Robert Parr, oceanographer and former ER physician. “It floods 125 times a year, so why would you put a hotel complex and spa on a single access road that’s a dead end?”

Parr explains the compound flood plain off of Battleship Road is susceptible to several different types of flooding: river flooding from rainfall, storm surge flooding during severe weather, high tide flooding and sea level rise.

Worries about access to the site during one of the frequent flood events came up as a concern for the fire department in this week’s TRC meeting. The area near the battleship has already flooded dozens of time this year, and it’s a problem environmentalists suggest isn’t going to get better with time.

The Wilmington Hotel and Spa is one of two proposals for the west bank of the Cape Fear River still up for consideration. The developers behind the 20 story complex called the Villages at Battleship Point will go before commissioners in January after the planning board denied their text amendment earlier this month to create a new zoning district that would have paved the way for the sprawling high rises at Peter’s Point. If they win the appeal, the matter moves back to the planning board.

The Villages of Battleship Point and the Wilmington Hotel and Spa are both high impact plans for floodplains and the county planning director believes developing across from the city of Wilmington is likely inevitable.

“It seems to make sense that people are going to want to do something. Our current policy is that we want it to look like downtown Wilmington. That is something that our board of commissioners has established several times over the past 25 years and so right now we’re saying that’s what we want to see. It looks like the market is saying that is something that makes sense to do at this point in time,” said county planning director Rebekah Roth.

Neither proposal has gotten the green light yet, but Roth explains the trends show developers have a desire to built up and to create taller buildings with more units and a smaller footprint.

Others say like the road, these plans will take on water and no matter how high you build, the problems will remain on the ground.

“Just because you raise it and give a lot of promises that you’re going to be above the flood, eventually it’s going to be an island, an island that is going to end up costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars,” said Parr.

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