Intensive Industry, Intensive Meetings:

THE PEOPLE’S VOICE: Folks gather at the Planning Board Hearing last month, all quick with questions and opinions. Photo by Alan Craddick.
County Commissioners Meeting
Mon., 10/3, 6 p.m.
New Hanover County Courthouse
3rd and Princess streets

As readers may or may not know, there has been a call to update Wilmington’s local zoning laws held since 1969 for intensive industries (i.e. companies producing acetylene, cement, chlorine, corrosive acid, fertilizer, insecticides, poisons, explosives, petroleum products, coal and radioactive materials). Its update will mandate an inclusion of a special use permit (SUP) for new industries like Titan America (i.e. Carolinas Cement) to apply for prior to actually breaking ground—something citizens have been fighting for many years via the local coalition Stop Titan Action Network.

After attending the Wilmington Planning Commission hearing back in August, encore published “Concerned Citizen: Voting for a Voice,” to shed light on the permit and the hearing that would surely send it on to the county commissioners for approval. However, the board tabled the draft yet again until the next hearing, which took place on September 1st.

After the decision—or lack thereof, depending on how one sees it—well over 100 residents, including parents, teachers, doctors and students, attended the hearing. It showed the planning board that Wilmingtonians care about zoning changes—more so, they care about having a say in which these industries move into their town. For good reason, too. Without a special use permit, New Hanover County continues to have a revolving door for industry to walk in and out, like a bank without so much as a security camera or lock on the vault. Amending industrial zoning to include the SUP would close the revolving door to potentially threatening business.

Though amendments were approved by the planning board at the beginning of September, the changes are still not set in stone. The next and expectantly final step will be at the county commissioners’ meeting, held October 3rd.

If passed by our elected commissioners, these changes will allow community engagement when new intensive industries wish to produce harmful materials or waste near our homes and businesses. This is a chance for any proposing industry to be an open book and fully explain their project, to demonstrate how the project will be developed, to minimize any negative effects on the community, and to highlight potential positive contributions it will bring to the community as well.

The updates, with the adoption of the SUP process, are not meant to discourage new industry but simply provide them the opportunity to allow our community, our planning board and our commissioners to have input on projects destined to affect us all. If the industry is not interested in that opportunity, perhaps it isn’t in Wilmington’s best interest to do business with them. Again, this is not about ending progression or suppressing economic growth; it’s about citizens having the right to fully understand how—and if—said growth will be achieved.

On Monday, October 3rd at 6 p.m. the county commissioners will consider these revisions to the zoning regulations and the special use permit. They could still make more changes, potentially strengthening or even weakening these regulations during the meeting. It is of the utmost importance that Wilmingtonians attend the public hearing to show their elected officials that accountability exists for their decision. Hopefully, citizens will hear their cries for change.

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