High-Density Housing Gone Wrong: Developer Dave Spetrino’s Proposed Monstrosity for Wilmington’s Historic Midtown Neighborhood

by | May 7, 2024 | News Analysis, Commentary and Opinion

(Above) One of several proposed facade designs for a 4-story building by developer Dave Spetrino. Spetrino is proposing to transform a 2.39-acre lot at the corner of Independence Blvd. and Oleander Rd. into a mixed-use high-density residential and commercial facility.

This article marks the first of a series on real estate development in Southeastern North Carolina.

Preservation Versus Progress: The Fight for Live Oak Plaza

In one of Wilmington’s most scenic neighborhoods, a contentious debate unfolds, highlighting broader concerns about expansive development throughout Southeastern North Carolina. Local residents are opposing a proposed high-density housing project by developer David Spetrino, which they believe could diminish the area’s allure (and property values). While this project is smaller than others nearby, it has sparked a significant discussion about ethical limits in urban development as beloved local enclaves risk irreversible change.

Key Takeaways of Spetrino’s Proposed Development

  • The property at the corner of Independence Blvd. and Oleander Rd. is owned by Midtown Development Partners LLC, managed by Urban Holdings LLC, which is owned by Dave Spetrino — former owner of Plantation Building Corp. and PBC Design + Build.
  • The planned development is set for a 2.39-acre undeveloped wooded lot at 1320 Independence Blvd., situated on the northwest corner of the Independence and Oleander Rd intersection, opposite of Bank of America.
  • The lot is currently zoned R-15 for residential with a maximum of 10.2 units per acre (which would equate to a total of 24 units for this property). The developer wants to rezone the lot for mixed-use in order increase the housing unit capacity to 36 and add a retail commercial space.
  • Spetrino is proposing 16 three-story townhouses and 20 condos housed in a four-story building, with commercial space on the first floor. The townhouses’ only egress/ingress access will be through the alleyway. The four-story building will have two points of egress and ingress; one on Independence Blvd. and the other off the adjacent alleyway.

(Below) Overhead rendering showcasing the proposed development with a four-story mixed-use building near the Independence/Oleander intersection and 16 townhomes along the alleyway. Click on image to enlarge.

Spetrino Independence overhead project rendering

(Below) Style concepts of the proposed 4-story mixed-use building — from Dave Spetrino’s March 27th community meeting. Click images to enlarge.

Spetrino Midtown Development rendering 3
Spetrino Midtown Development rendering 6
Spetrino Midtown Development rendering 7
Spetrino Midtown Development rendering 3
Spetrino Midtown Development rendering 4
Spetrino Midtown Development rendering 2
David Spetrino wants to redevelop historic neighborhood

Spetrino’s Community Meeting

Dave Spetrino convened a neighborhood gathering on March 27th to outline and address inquiries regarding his development proposal. Approximately seventy residents participated to express their concerns. The main issue raised by locals was that buildings were not conforming with the surrounding neighborhood. Notably, there are no towering four-story structures along Oleander Road adjacent to historic one-story and two-story single family homes. And when Spetrino briefly suggested the idea the neighborhood would be prime for tear-downs and rebuilds, he alienated any potential support he may have had at the meeting.

(Below) Image carousel of David Spetrino’s booklet from his community presentation on March 27, 2024. Click on image to enlarge.

  • Midtown and Main Community Meeting Presentation 05.27.2024
  • Site Plan Concept
  • Mixed-use parcel concept
  • Townhome Conceptual Images
  • Mix-use concept images
  • Developed Site Plan – not to scale
  • Mixed-use parcel massing 3
  • Mixed-use parcel massing 2
  • Mixed-use parcel massing 1

How Did Dave Spetrino Come to Own the Corner Lot at 1320 Independence Blvd?

Dave Spetrino’s current project is located at a 2.39-acre wooded lot at 1320 Independence Boulevard, the Northwest corner where Independence Blvd. and Oleander Road intersect.

Last year, David Spetrino attempted to initiate a similar project at this corner, but it was to be part of a larger 20-acre undertaking along Independence Blvd. When he ran into resistance from local mid-town residents, he announced he was cancelling the endeavor.

In a June 19, 2023  WimingtonBiz  article, Spetrino was quoted:

“After much consideration, we have decided to ‘move on’ from the proposed development of this site. While we recognize our original intent may never have been fully embraced, we believed our initial outreach and willingness to work with the adjacent neighbors to create a design and product mix that could transition into the existing fabric would be achievable,” Spetrino wrote. “Instead, we found the community, even clients and associates of our company, conflicted between the expectation of future growth within our region as a whole and the reality of that growth in their own backyards.”

And,

“Please know it was never our intent to create the level of friction or cause for concern amongst our neighbors and friends.”

Although WilmingtonBiz published his statement on June 19, 2023, it seems Spetrino had already been quietly negotiating with the property owner, The Oleander Company, Inc.. to acquire the 2.39-acre corner property to develop. Two weeks prior to the article’s release, Spetrino filed paperwork with the Secretary of State to establish a new company, Midtown Development Partners, LLC. A mere two days after the article, on June 21, The Oleander Company, Inc. deeded the corner lot to Midtown Development Partners for $410,000 (according to county etax records). The property transfer was recorded with New Hanover County on June 29, 2023. Notably, the purchase price was significantly below market value for this neighborhood, where 1/3-acre lots have recently sold for around $200,000.

The Neighborhood

Spetrino’s proposed development is positioned on the edge of the historic Live Oak Plaza neighborhood. The neighborhood is bordered by Oleander Road and Wrightsville Avenues to the south and north, respectively, and flanked by a railroad track to the west and Independence Boulevard to the east.

(Below) Live Oak Plaza neighborhood, Wilmington, North Carolina, shaded in yellow. Click image to enlarge.

Highlighted map of Live Oak Plaza

The neighborhood, renowned for its distinctive architecture and picturesque landscapes, is a sought-after backdrop for film and television projects. Numerous productions have utilized the homes within Live Oak Plaza, leveraging their visual appeal as settings for various scenes.

As these homes approach their centennial milestones in the coming years, they continue to contribute to Wilmington’s historical charm.

(Below) ‘No Rezoing’ signs are spotted across the midtown neighborhood.

No Rezone Signs in Live Oak Plaza Neighborhood

(Below) Country Club Road, with its Great Oak canopy, is one of this neighborhood’s notable features.

Oaks along Country Club Rd

(Below) Live Oak Plaza features many homes used as backdrops for film and television. This home was a set for the movie ‘Scream 5’.

Home from Scream 5 on Country Club Rd

Stay Informed with Ongoing Developments

This proposed development underscores the common conflict between advocates of economic progress and proponents of preservation. However, it is poised to reveal the limits of political influence the real estate industry has over Southeastern North Carolina. As the story progresses, updates, including insights from the recent March 27th community meeting, will be provided. Stay tuned for ongoing coverage.

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this informative article. As a resident of the above neighborhood we are working to keep it as originally zoned.

    Reply
  2. It’s a damn shame Spetrino developing anywhere along Independence Blvd! Thank you Robert Keith and others in challenging Spetrino, your hard opposition is most appreciated

    Reply
  3. Thank you for this important and well written article. Our Save Midtown Neighborhood group organized an effective opposition last year to Spetrino’s original proposal to cram a high density condo/townhome development along Independence Blvd between Canterbury Rd all the way to Park Ave including the corner parcel referenced in your article, The proposed rezoning and project would have been a terrible eyesore along that corridor and would have destroyed the character of the adjacent single family neighborhoods. It was a terrible idea on so many levels including safety, increased traffic congestion, loss of 20 acres of tree canopy and added stress on our stormwater system and water quality. Unfortunately, Spetrino and his partners have resurfaced with a similar terrible project for this location. Our group is working to oppose this current rezoning application including plans to attend the scheduled Wilmington Planning Commission meeting on June 05.

    Reply
  4. Rich NIMBY’s vs. opportunist developers…picking sides here is like picking which turd smells best.

    Reply

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