Homegrown Resistance: Wilmington Residents Head to City Hall to Challenge Developer Dave Spetrino

by | May 30, 2024 | News Analysis, Commentary and Opinion

(Above) Composite image of Wilmington developer David Spetrino, former owner of Plantation Building Corp. and PBC Design+Build Inc, set against the backdrop of his latest proposed building concepts for his planned 2.39-acre development at the corner of Independence Blvd. and Oleander Dr.

This article is the second installment in our series on real estate development in Southeastern North Carolina. Be sure to check out our first article .

*** JUNE 06, 2024 UPDATE ***

At Wilmington’s Planning Commission’s monthly meeting last night, developer Dave Spetrino asked for a last-minute continuance. In a 6-0 vote, the commission approved his continuance request and his rezoning presentation will now be heard at the Planning Commission’s next meeting, 6pm, Wednesday, July 10, 2024.

(Below) Wilmington’s Planning Commission video stream shows a 6-0 vote approving Dave Spetrino’s last-minute continuance request. Spetrino’s attorney, Sam Franck, approaches the podium and speaks on behalf of his client. 

The following is the original article.

Will Dave Spetrino’s Campaign Donations Sway the City of Wilmington’s Real Estate Development Approval Process?

Developer Dave Spetrino’s company, Midtown Development Partners, is scheduled to be heard at Wilmington’s Planning Commission next week in an effort to rezone a residential property located on the Northwest corner of independence Boulevard and Oleander Drive. If the Planning Commission approves the rezoning of the parcel, this project will continue the momentum developers have to build large developments in traditional and historic suburban neighborhoods across New Hanover County.

Currently, the only four-story mixed-use buildings along Oleander are the recently built developments, The Range on Oleander and Hawthorne at Oleander (3 and 4 miles away from the Spetrino project location). These large projects (with buildings approximately 50 feet in height) have faced criticism from residents who argue that city planners approved developments that are out of character for Wilmington.

Lessons from this community challenging overdevelopment

Many residents in southeastern North Carolina want to push back against overdevelopment but are unsure how to proceed. The opposition to Spetrino’s project offers a valuable lesson on how communities can resist unwarranted growth. Aggressive development threatens the character and environment of neighborhoods. It also has the potential to influence upcoming municipal elections.

(Below) Located at the northwest corner of Oleander Drive and Independence Blvd. on Dave Spetrino’s property, a land hearing notice is staked for Wilmington’s  upcoming Planning Commission meeting on June 5th, 2024. The sign informs the public that residents can comment on the proposed rezoning of the property from residential (R-15) to high-density residential mixed-use.

Dave Spetrino sign for rezoning hearing

Wilmington Residents Organize to Stop Dave Spetrino’s Development

In early May 2024, Wilmington’s Save Midtown Neighborhoods organization reached out to residents via email, urging them to oppose the rezoning application. According to the group, the application, filed by Dave Spetrino’s development company, Midtown Development Partners, seeks to change the zoning of the northwest corner of Oleander Drive and Independence Boulevard from R-15 (Residential Single Family) to O&I (Office & Institutional). As we mentioned in our previous article, this change would allow for high-density, mixed-use development, including 36 residential units and a commercial space. The Wilmington Planning Commission will review this application on June 5th, and Save Midtown Neighborhoods asks residents to attend this meeting in opposition to Spetrino’s re-zoning plans.

The group emphasized the importance of community involvement in their email, stating,

“It is very important that our entire neighborhood reach out to the Planning Commission members and register their opposition to the upzoning of this property. The only chance we have to limit what will be built on this property is through strength in numbers. The Planning Commission and City Council members need to hear from all of us so they will know how many citizens oppose this rezoning application.”

Key Points of Opposition

Public Safety Concerns

One of the primary concerns raised by Save Midtown Neighborhoods is potentially heightened safety hazards associated with more traffic. The group contends that the proposed development’s ingress and egress plans could make an already dangerous corner even more dangerous for motorists and pedestrians. They emphasized,

“Based on the proposed ingress/egress plan presented by the developer, the adjacent high-traffic roads and the existing alley located between the existing single-family residences and the proposed site, we believe the proposed density and related car trips will create a safety hazard for all motorists using the Independence Road/Oleander Drive intersection and specifically will endanger the residents immediately to the west of the alley. Additionally, the proposed curb cut onto Independence will cross over the Cross City Trail and increase the risk for accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.”

In recent years, the intersection of Oleander Drive and Independence Boulevard has seen several fatalities and serious accidents. The situation is becoming increasingly dangerous as the area becomes more congested. Spetrino’s project fails to adequately address pedestrian and bicyclist safety, especially on the Oleander side of the lot, where pedestrians will be only 24 inches away from moving vehicles. These serious accidents include the following:

  • May 2023, 79-year-old Edward Lillis was killed while riding his bicycle.
  • November 2021, 37-year-old Jeremy Bruce Evans, was killed in a motorcycle crash.
  • November 2021, Rafael Avalos, 36, is charged with DWI and felony serious injury.
  • September 2019, 79-year-old Elizabeth Ann Drew, was killed in a car accident.
  • November 2016, 25-year-old Jonathan Alexander Hayes kills 2-year-old boy.

(Below) Photo of Edward Lillis, struck and killed in a traffic collision at the intersection of Independence Boulevard and Oleander Drive on May 16, 2023; one of many deaths to happen in front of Spetrino’s property in recent years. 

Edward Lillis

Wilmington’s Comprehensive Plan guidelines recommend (with emphasis on major corridors) that developers incorporate pedestrian-traffic buffer zones into new projects as shown below. Spetrino’s plan for Oleander Drive lacks this feature, as his plans show that he will be retaining the hazardous sidewalk currently in place.

(Below) Image from Spetrino’s project plan shows a very narrow sidewalk and lack of safety buffer zone for pedestrians. According to Wilmington’s Comprehensive Plan, pedestrian safety needs to be a consideration for new developments.

Spetrino's lack of plan for sidewalk

 (Below) This photo shows the existing 5-foot-wide sidewalk adjacent to Oleander Drive and Spetrino’s parcel at one of Wilmington’s most dangerous intersections. Spetrino’s plans indicate this sidewalk will remain unchanged in the proposed project.

Existing sideway on Oleander side of Spetrinos property

(Below) A sidewalk buffer between the pedestrians and traffic — example from the Policies’ section of City of Wilmington’s Comprehensive Plan — presents a less hazardous experience for pedestrians. Spetrino’s plan lacks this buffer zone on the Oleander Drive side of his property. 

Example - City of Wilmington Comprehensive Plan sidewalk-street buffer zone

Neighborhood Compatibility and Character

The proposed development does not align with existing neighborhood character, as outlined in the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Growth Plan (CWCGP). Save Midtown Neighborhoods argues that the project fails to meet multiple specific policies related to neighborhood compatibility. They stated,

“There are multiple policies from the CWCGP and Land Development Code (LDC) supporting protection of existing neighborhood character and compatibility with infill developments. The proposed project does not include provisions to meet multiple specific policies in the CWCGP and LDC relating to compatibility and character.”

Environmental Concerns

Save Midtown Neighborhoods’ email also highlighted environmental concerns, noting that Dave Spetrino’s parcel was originally intended as a vegetative buffer. The proposed development would remove most of the existing trees and undergrowth, leading to increased noise and light pollution and potential flooding issues. In their email the group stated,

“As evidenced by the unique narrow shape, this parcel was originally intended as a permanent vegetative buffer between the commercial development east of Independence Blvd. and the residential properties to the west. The scale and height of the proposed designs along with the removal of most of the trees and undergrowth will be unsightly, create serious noise and light pollution for adjacent homeowners, and detrimentally impact our air and water quality. According to adjacent homeowners, the parcel frequently floods during sustained rain events.”

(Below) Click on the following images to read the ‘Save Midtown Neighborhoods’ email in its entirety; four pages in length.

Pg 1 Spetrino Project-Rezoning Request Independence & Oleander
Pg 2 Spetrino Project-Rezoning Request Independence & Oleander
Pg 3 Spetrino Project-Rezoning Request Independence & Oleander
Pg 4 Spetrino Project-Rezoning Request Independence & Oleander

The following is the sample public comment email Save Midtown Neighborhoods is asking residents to send the Wilmington Planning Commission and City Council. (Styling of letter is from the original ‘Save Midtown Neighborhoods’ email.)

May 08 2024

Attention: Planning Commission Members

Subject: Rezoning Request-1320 Independence Boulevard

I am a Wilmington resident who strongly opposes the rezoning and development being proposed by Midtown Development Partners for the vacant property at the Northwest corner of Oleander Drive and Independence Boulevard. The developer is pursuing upzoning this property from R-15 (single family homes, like the properties immediately adjacent to the west) to O&I (CD) for purposes of building a mixed use development. I oppose the developer’s rezoning request for many reasons including, but not limited to, the following (note related Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan policies cited) :

The Create Wilmington Comprehensive Growth Plan has been cited as basis for this development’s rezoning effort.  Multiple aspects of the proposal are inconsistent with policies included in the CWCGP including but not limited to those outlined below:

The subject property is not identified for change on the CWCGP Growth Strategies Maps. The Areas of Opportunity Map clearly shows this parcel is not specifically included. This corner parcel is on the fringe of a larger “Urban Mixed Use Center Circle” but the circle is clearly focused on the east side of Independence Blvd.  The proposed rezoning to O&I (CD) does not meet the basic Urban Mixed Use Center principles (see “Principles” in CWCGP).  The form and function of the project is not appropriate for and consistent with the Growth Strategies Map.

The proposed project does not meet Commercial District Mixed Use code requiring a minimum of 20% of total building square footage be commercial space. It is in reality a multi-family residential development with only a token amount of office space.

The form and function of the project is not appropriate for and consistent with the Growth Strategies Map. Again, 1,800 sq ft does not create a destination. Nor does it really create employment opportunities. He thinks this is going to be a CPA’s office or a pilates instructor, but his track record proves otherwise.

The city and county have agreed to use a recently adopted set of “Principles for Development Regulation” as a guide for future updates to planning and codes. The proposed development clearly does not meet principle numbers #3 and #4.

The above referenced CWCGP maps were developed based on intense citizen input, vetted by a citizen steering committee, recommended for approval by the Planning Commission, and adopted by the City Council to identify which areas of the city may change and how they may change. The strategies associated with the maps were identified through the public input process and complemented by technical analysis and land development factors. This consensus of professional and citizen opinions should make it clear that this specific parcel should remain zoned R-15.

Public Safety

Based on the proposed ingress/egree plan presented by the developer, the adjacent high-traffic roads and the existing alley located between the existing single-family residences and the proposed site, we believe the proposed density and related car trips will create a safety hazard for all motorists using the Independence Road/Oleander Drive intersection and specifically will endanger the residents immediately to the west of the alley. Additionally, the proposed curb cut onto Independence will cross over the Cross City Trail and increase the risk for accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.

  1. Alley:  An alley maintained by the city separates the parcel and the rear property line of current Hawthorne Road residents connecting Park Avenue to Oleander Drive. The alley has been used primarily for trash collection and utilities services and is too narrow to safely manage increased car trips created by 40 residential units and commercial traffic. The developer proposes to use 10’ of his property to widen the alley from Oleander Drive to the end of his property but this design will effectively place car traffic less than 10’ from the back yards of Hawthorne residents, some of which have young children. Further, there is no provision to improve the single lane alley between the developer’s property and Park Avenue. Motorists from the development may choose to enter and exit the development via Park Avenue which will create a safety hazard as two cars cannot pass each other as the alley currently exists.
  2. Impact on Independence Blvd: A new curb cut on Independence will interfere with an existing deceleration lane used by motorists approaching Oleander Drive to turn right. The cut will be in close proximity to the Oleander Drive intersection and motorists turning into the development will be slowing down with no available deceleration lane creating further congestion around this already very busy intersection. There is an existing city bus stop near the planned curb cut which will be affected. Independence Blvd is already a heavily used North-South corridor. The daily car trips will increase greatly as more approved residential developments are completed in this corridor between River Road and Shipyard Blvd. The budgeted DOT extension of Independence Blvd through to Martin Luther King Blvd will further increase the number of cars traveling by the proposed development site.
  3. Impact on Oleander Drive: Cars leaving the development will exit directly onto Oleander Drive from the alley. They will turn into an existing deceleration lane designed for traffic turning from Oleander Drive onto Hawthorne Road and be forced to wait for an opportunity to merge from the deceleration lane into the regular westbound traffic lane. This will create a safety hazard as motorists wanting to enter the deceleration lane from Oleander Drive to turn onto Hawthorne Road will be unable to merge if cars existing the development are waiting in the lane to merge into traffic. The close proximity of this alley drive to the Oleander/Independence intersection makes use of this cut as an egress for this development dangerous and unsafe for both motorists and pedestrians.
  4. Impact on Cross City Trail: Independence Blvd is designated as a Green Connection.  The Cross City Trail along Independence Blvd should be protected for pedestrians and cyclists with limited driveways crossing the trail. The proposed ingress from Independence Blvd will endanger pedestrians and bikers using the trail.

Specific CWCGP safety and traffic policies and reasons to deny rezoning of this parcel:

2.1.4 Comprehensive transportation impacts, including parking and impacts on all modes of transportation should be identified and addressed before a development or redevelopment is implemented

2.4.4 When reviewing traffic impact analyses for infill and redevelopment, level of service measurements should include all modes of transportation, including bicycles, pedestrians, and transit, in addition to automobile level of service.

2.6.4 Where possible, and especially along identified pedestrian priority streets, tools such as protected left turns, pedestrian head start, raised crosswalks, curb extensions, medians, pedestrian refuge islands or midblock crossings, and restricted right turns on red should be used to improve pedestrian and bicycle movements and safety

2.8.2 “Traffic calming measures should be incorporated into the design of new or retrofitted local and neighborhood streets, within schools and parks, and around pedestrian-oriented business areas. Pedestrian and bicyclists should have safe, convenient, well-marked means to cross streets.“

Neighborhood Compatibility and Character:

There are multiple policies in the in the CWCGP and LDC supporting protection of existing neighborhood character and compatibility with infill developments. The proposed project does not include provisions to meet the specific policies referenced below:

1.4.1 Quality design and site planning should be promoted so that new development infill and redevelopment is implemented with minimal adverse impacts on desired character of the existing built environment”

1.4.2 New commercial development should be properly managed through the use of development regulations, the development review process, and other tools. The intent is to avoid unreasonable impacts, such as traffic, parking, litter, shadow, light, view obstruction, odor, noise, and/or vibration impacts on nearby residential areas.

1.5.1 Mixed-use centers should be made up of a diverse mix of uses and integrated design that avoids segregation of uses. Centers should have well-planned public spaces that bring people together and provide opportunities for active living and social interactions.

1.7.3 The need to increase housing supply, neighborhood commerce, and to mature as a city should be balanced with the need to protect desired neighborhood character, preserve historic resources, and protect the natural environment

1.7.5 Historic and unique neighborhoods with an abundance of desired character should be protected and conserved through the use of zoning, reinvestment, and other tools.

1.7.10 Infill sites within existing neighborhoods should be developed consistently with the design elements of nearby structures and in a manner that enhances or improves the character of the area.

1.7.8 Usable open space that preserves natural landscapes and high-quality ecological resources should be encouraged in new residential development.

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.

Environment Concerns:

As evidenced by the unique narrow shape, this parcel was originally intended as a permanent vegetative buffer between the commercial development east of Independence Blvd and the residential properties to the west. The scale and height of the proposed designs along with the removal of most of the trees and undergrowth will be unsightly, create serious noise and light pollution for adjacent homeowners, and detrimentally impact our air and water quality. According to adjacent homeowners, the parcel frequently floods during sustained rain events.

Based on reports from city and county staff, the quality of many of our waterways is already below acceptable standards due to growing stormwater runoff. According to excerpts from the Annual Surface Water Quality Report in the Spring 2023 edition of The Wilmington Current, “Greenfield Lake continues to host nuisance algae blooms and the tributary creeks of Jumping Run Branch and Squash Branch continue to load high fecal bacteria and nutrients into the lake.” The site for the proposed development drains to Greenfield Lake, then directly to the Cape Fear River.

From the CWCGP policies:

4.2.4 Greenways should be employed as vegetative buffers to improve stormwater management and water quality.” Undeveloped land is a natural water filter.  Stormwater runoff from increases in impervious surface coverage in a watershed contributes to poor surface water quality and increases the amount of pollutants entering our waterways.

At some point we must slow the clearing of our trees and natural areas to allow for necessary stormwater infrastructure improvements to catch up to the pace of development. While this single development and increased density alone will not move us past the tipping point for acceptable water quality, the cumulative effect of the many other approved developments will irreparably harm our waterways. The benefit to our community from the rezoning and additional density being requested is not sufficient to justify the compromise to public safety, the aesthetics of the surrounding neighborhood and the quality of our waterways and overall environment.

When this matter comes before the Planning Commission, I urge you to vote to recommend denial of this incompatible and unnecessary upzoning.

Are Dave Spetrino’s Campaign Contributions Influencing Votes on His Development Projects?

Dave Spetrino has been donating to local political campaigns for many years. The following are the city officials that would be voting on Spetrino’s project that Spetrino donated to; all of which, are in the real estate industry:

John Lennon, Committee to Elect John Lennon (donated in 2023)

Dave Spetrino contributed to John Lennon’s 2023 campaign for the City Council. Lennon lost his election for City Council in 2023. Despite Lennon’s subsequent loss in the City Council election, his staunch support for extensive development in Wilmington is speculated to have sunk the entire Republican ticket in that city council race. Lennon’s position on the city’s Planning Commission places him in a key role in deciding the fate of Spetrino’s project.

Luke Waddell, Committee to Elect Luke Waddell (2022)

Spetrino contributed to Waddell’s Wilmington City Council campaign in January 2022. According to Board of Election records, Spetrino’s donation occurred post-election, a month after Waddell’s swearing-in.

Bill Saffo, Bill Saffo for Mayor (donated in 2021)

Should Spetrino’s project advance through rezoning and technical reviews, Mayor Saffo, along with other Wilmington city council members, will be voting on the final approval of the project.

Charlie Rivenbark, Rivenbark for City Council (2017)

Spetrino’s support for Rivenbark dates back to a donation made during Rivenbark’s 2017 city council campaign.

Questions

These contributions underscore Spetrino’s financial involvement in City of Wilmington politics. This raises important questions:

  • Should these officials recuse themselves when it comes time to vote on Dave Spetrino’s projects?
  • Or is real estate development inherently a pay-to-play industry in New Hanover County?

(Below) John Lennon’s campaign disclosure form shows Dave Spetrino’s $1,000 donation, made just weeks before Spetrino’s plans to develop high-density housing along Independence Boulevard became public.

Lennon 2023 disclosure report with Spetrino's contribution.

Make your Voice Heard on this Rezoning Effort

Residents are strongly encouraged to participate in the upcoming public meeting on June 5th and to submit their comments on the Wilmington Planning Commission’s comment web page. This is a critical opportunity to voice concerns about developer Dave Spetrino’s proposal to rezone the property at the corner of Independence Boulevard and Oleander Drive. Approval of this rezoning could set a precedent for future large-scale developments in suburban areas and impact neighborhood safety, character, and environmental quality in the City of Wilmington. Community involvement is essential to ensure that development aligns with the needs and desires of Wilmington residents.

When and Where

The next regular meeting for Wilmington’s Planning Commission is:

Wednesday, June 5, 2024, at 6:00 P.M.

It will be held in the City Council Chambers,

2nd floor of City Hall, 102 North 3rd Street, Wilmington.

Learn more about Wilmington’s Planning Commission by visiting their web page.

 

Submit a Correction

Name(Required)

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GET THE BEACON DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX

Receive important News that goes under-reported, the news that matters the most. Sign up for must-read stories today.

While Big Tech doesn't want you to read alternative news, we're in the fight to get conservative-based news in front of our readers. Google has limited our reach in their search results; but be assured, we will keep fighting for what is worthy.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Support Local Independent News and Analysis!

Amid widespread left-leaning media bias, our role is pivotal. Your sponsorship supports local and regional story coverage, aiding our expansion.