Aldermen take stand on high-rise development

Published 1:24 pm Friday, November 23, 2007

By Staff
If a developer in New Bern is looking for an answer, we think he got it.
The answer is “no.”
That’s the message that aldermen there are sending to the people behind River Harbour Marina. A majority of the board indicated this week that when the public hearing comes up Dec. 5, it will vote no, even if it means the developer of the $500 million project packs up and moves on.
That takes a certain amount of guts. A $500 million project would be a big boost to the tax rolls there, and projects of that size don’t come along every day. But with River Harbour comes two 15-story condominium buildings, and that’s not something aldermen can stomach. The city has a building height limit of four stories, but it can grant exceptions.
Will Stout, the president of Florida-based Realmark Development and the man behind the project, has said River Harbour won’t work without the high-rise condominiums, according to a story published in the New Bern Sun Journal. He wants the city to give him a contract that lays out the mutually agreed-upon scope of the project. He’s asking for a signed deal that gives him 10 years to build the project and protect the developer should future boards decide they don’t like the idea.
Clearly the current board doesn’t like it, and it’s not about to tie the hands of future boards.
The development is planned for downtown New Bern and would have a mix of high-end houses, cottages and condominiums. They would run in price from $295,000 to $3 million each. It includes a public “riverwalk” and a 200-slip marina. The condominiums, which are the height of the silo at the old Arrant Coastal Lumber Company, where they would be built, have been criticized by some residents as being too tall.
Stout has said that without the condominiums, the project won’t work.
And we say that’s just fine by us.
New Bern has a leg to stand on because it has a zoning ordinance that addresses building height. Even the little town of Bayboro across the Neuse River has a zoning ordinance that sets limits on building heights. Beaufort County had nothing on paper to stop The Rembrey , a proposed 13-story condos project on what was Whichard’s Beach. In the end, it was economics, not zoning, that stopped that project; but who is to say that another one might not crop up next week.
New Bern Alderman Julius Parham said Stout has tried to drum up support, but he’s not buying it.
City Attorney Scott Davis said Stout “wants to come get some answers” before going any further with his plans. He said Stout wants a development agreement in part because of the size of the project. A development agreement would mean that some things about the project were set in stone, even if it took 10 years to build or if the city’s leaders changed during the development.
We applaud New Bern’s aldermen for their stand. Some developments don’t belong in small communities, and it appears River Harbour is one of them.