Is Dave Spetrino a Double-Dealing Developer Playing Gaslight Games?

by | Jul 10, 2024 | News Analysis, Commentary and Opinion

This article is the third installment in our series on real estate development in Southeastern North Carolina. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Spetrino’s Rezoning Hearing Update

Wilmington’s Planning Commission held their monthly hearing on July 10th at 6 pm. The vote to approve Spetrino’s application passed with a 4 to 1 majority. The Wilmington City Council is now expected to vote on final approval on August 20, 2024.

Does Spetrino genuinely believe his proposal aligns with Wilmington’s ideals? Does he care?

At 6pm tonight (Wed. July 11, 2024), at Wilmington’s Planning and Development Commission meeting, Dave Spetrino will be presenting his case to rezone a 2.39-acre lot so he can build what would normally be in a downtown urban setting. Spetrino submitted a 21-page plan to the City of Wilmington Planning Commission with the request to rezone his 1320 Independence property from residential only (R-15) to Office and Industry with Commercial Downtown Mixed-use (O&I with CDMU).

Residents Face Headwinds with City Planner’s Recommendation

In a summary published yesterday afternoon on the city’s website, City of Wilmington project planner Miranda Franz has given her recommendation to the Planning Commission to move forward with the rezoning with a “conditional approval.” According to the summary (p6), the conditions are:

  • Require compliance with all regulations and requirements imposed by the Land Development Code, the City of Wilmington Technical Standards and Specifications Manual and any other applicable federal, state, or local law, ordinance, or regulation, as well as any condition stated below.
  • The approval of the conditional district rezoning would not constitute technical approval of the site plan.
  • If any condition for approval is found to be “illegal or invalid or if the applicant should fail to accept any condition following approval, the approval of the site plan for the district shall be null and void.”
  • The use and development of property shall follow site plan and elevations as submitted and accepted by City Council.
  • “Any significant trees located outside the building footprint and essential site improvements must be protected and retained.”

(Below) Cover page of city planner Miranda Frantz’s case summary to Wilmington’s Planning Commission, recommending approval of Dave Spetrino’s rezoning request for 1320 Independence Boulevard. Click on image to open case summary.

Wilmington Staffer Miranda Frantz recommends rezoning approval for Spetrino development

Basis for Staff Recommendation

In the Case Summary, the recommendation seems to strongly favor the developer over the community. Many of Franz’s supporting points appear questionable.

According to city Associate Planner Miranda Frantz:

The site plan proposes enhanced pedestrian connection to the Cross City Trail, dedication of land to improve an alley as an access point…”

The plan does not enhance or improve pedestrian connection to the Cross City Trail. Instead, it adds a vehicle driveway across the trail, increasing hazards for pedestrians and cyclists. A comparison between Google satellite views and Spetrino’s submitted plans shows no improvements to the trail, only the addition of a driveway and a relocated bus stop.

(Below) The Cross City Trail satellite photo from Google Maps.

Google arial view of 1320 Independence Boulevard

(Below) The Cross City Trail highlighted in yellow on Spetrino’s development plans. Bus stop is relocated slightly to make room for new driveway.

Cross City Trail from Spetrinos plans
According to city Associate Planner Miranda Frantz:

“The site plan proposes enhanced pedestrian connection to the Cross City Trail, dedication of land to improve an alley as an access point…”

Spetrino’s provision of additional land to widen the alley does not improve its condition. It merely expands the footprint of the ally that residents are imposed upon to maintain. Residents report that the alley is unpaved and lacks regular city maintenance. The neglect by the city sometimes requires residents to fill potholes themselves to prevent vehicles from getting stuck. At the March neighborhood meeting this concern was brought up and Spetrino stated that the future HOAs established with the development will not be responsible for maintaining the alley once the land is provided.

 

According to city Associate Planner Miranda Frantz:

“The proposal includes additional housing units along two major corridors while serving as a transition from higher intensity uses and the existing neighborhood to the west.”

While the proposal does provide for sixteen townhouses, this aspect is of little contention for residents of the neighborhood. The real issue arises from the four-story mixed-use building at the corner of the Independence/Oleander intersection. Spetrino compares this building to The Helmsman, an apartment complex on Park Avenue behind Harris Teeter. However, this comparison is misleading since The Helmsman is in the Park Place neighborhood, which is already designated as an Urban Mixed-use Complex area with 100% high-density housing. Spetrino’s property is not in such a designated area. Residents feel that a high-density urban building is inappropriate for a suburban midtown neighborhood.

(Below) A photo of The Helmsman apartment complex located in the Park Place neighborhood.

The Helmsman on Park Ave

(Below) A rendering of Dave Spetrino’s proposed mixed-use building at the corner of Independence Boulevard and Oleander Rd. in Wilmington, NC.

Spetrino's proposed mixed-use building at 1320 Independence Blvd.pdf - Brave

Is Rezoning Truly Necessary for Spetrino’s Parcel to Align with Wilmington’s Comprehensive Plan?

The short answer is no, the property is already in compliance with Wilmington’s plan. There’s no need to rezone other than to maximize profits for the developer.

In her Case Summary, Frantz states that staff evaluated for “consistency” with policies in the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan and these policies were identified as the strongest to support the proposed rezoning of Spetrino’s property.

“1.7.1. Growth should be accommodated in the city through mixed-use neighborhoods with a variety of housing types and price points.”

While this idea is sound, Wilmington’s Comprehensive Plan has already identified specific areas for development. These prioritized areas are numerous, and it would take developers decades to address them all. Although Spetrino’s property is near one of these areas, it is not included in the identified zones.

In the screenshot below from Wilmington’s Comprehensive Plan—submitted with Spetrino’s proposal—it’s clear that 1320 Independence Boulevard is not part of the Harris Teeter/Independence Mall areas highlighted in dark blue on the map. This dark blue area is considered to be an Urban Mixed-use Center. Spetrino added the red arrow to show that the lot is clearly outside of the blue-shaded area on the West side of Independence Boulevard.

Urban Mixed-use Center zone

Spetrino argues that because his property is on the very edge of a circle used to identify areas of interest in the Comprehensive Plan, it should be approved for rezoning. However, this argument is flawed. The circle clearly highlights Hanover Center (the location of Harris Teeter) and Independence Mall. If the Comprehensive Plan authors intended to include the Independence Boulevard/Oleander intersection, they would have placed an overlapping circle there, as they did near the Wrightsville Avenue/South College Road intersection and a variety of other locations on the map.

Wilmington Comprehensive Plan map with circles 112

“1.11.3. Areas well-suited for infill and redevelopment, should be redeveloped in a way that maintains or enhances the desired character of the surrounding area, improves access to goods, services, and amenities, increases housing options, and improves the overall quality of life in the vicinity.”

Spetrino’s proposal fails to demonstrate how it enhances the character of the surrounding area or improves access to goods, services, and amenities. Instead, the proposal creates potential hazards for pedestrians, runners, and cyclists on the Cross City Trail, particularly at one of the city’s most dangerous intersections known for vehicle-related deaths. Additionally, the proposal acknowledges an increase in traffic congestion, which contradicts the policy’s goal of improving the “overall quality of life in the vicinity.”

 

“9.3.1. Mixed-use buildings and multi-use development sites should be encouraged where appropriate. Infill development that creates a destination for existing land uses should include opportunities for cross-site pedestrian connections, shared parking arrangements and other strategies to enhance mixed-use environments.”

While all three of these policies listed in the Case Summary provide a legitimate vision for the City of Wilmington, two of the three policies (1.7.1 and 1.11.3) would apply to the parcel whether it is rezoned or not. The third policy, 9.3.1, states that multi-use buildings “should be  encouraged where appropriate.”  While the proposed townhomes might be appropriate, a 45-foot midrise building, like The Helmsman, in the Urban Mixed-use zone, is not. The Commercial Downtown Mixed-use (CDMU) designation, as represented in its namesake, is one that needs to be strictly reserved for Downtown.

New Details Revealed with Dave Spetrino’s Proposal

Within the proposal Spetrino submitted to the planning department, the community learns for the first time the approximate height of mixed-use building. During the community meeting Spetrino held, he would not give approximate heights of the mixed use building and would only state that the building is to be four stories. Now, the proposal reveals Spetrino plans to build a 45-foot structure, which would be the tallest building along Oleander Road for miles. 

(Below) A mock-up comparing Spetrino’s proposed four-story mixed-use building next to a 30-foot two-story peaked roof house.

Mock-up 45-foot mixed use building next to a 2-story peaked gable house.
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1 Comment

  1. Excellent points. Excellent reporting. This kind of move on the part of developers will set Wilmington on a collision course with increased flooding, traffic congestion (especially this intersection) and the transformation of our beautiful town with its live oak canopies into a cement jungle.

    Reply

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