NCCF 30-year lease approved
Despite Ignite Restaurant Group’s wishes to open a Joe’s Crab Shack in the existing Johnnie Mercer’s Pier House, the town of Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen unanimously denied the Conditional Use Permit the restaurant needed to operate in the location at its meeting on Thursday, March 14.
Of the findings of fact the board had to approve to grant the CUP, the sticking points were the findings that the restaurant would not be “injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity,” and “adequate utilities, access roads, parking, drainage and necessary facilities have been or are being provided.”
Although representatives from Ignite claimed the restaurant would only attract visitors already on the beach during lunch hours, many of the residents who came to the meeting were of the same opinion as the board. Neighbors in the Salisbury Street area like Martha Chaffins were concerned that the already severe traffic and parking issues on Salisbury Street in the summer months would only be exacerbated with patrons visiting the restaurant. Other residents of the neighboring streets to the north and south of Salisbury Street said they were concerned the traffic would only spill over into the smaller residential side streets more so than it already does.
As for the property values of surrounding areas, Cape Fear Commercial co-founder Brian Eckel — invited to the meeting by attorney Geoffrey Losee, representative for Mercer’s Enterprises — said adding a restaurant like Joe’s to the pier would be an investment level upgrade and that the surrounding properties would only benefit.
Another aspect of the proposal that alarmed the board came when Ignite vice president of construction, Sean Rea, said other Joe’s around the country sometimes stay open after midnight on weekends or special holidays. In response, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said he originally did not have any problems with the idea of having a restaurant in that location when the hours of operation discussed were from 11 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. However, having the restaurant open until 1 or 2 a.m. would cause issues for his department, House said.
“At night it would increase the traffic but that traffic would leave before the bar crowd gets here if they closed at 10 or 11,” he said. “But if they stay open late it would add to the bar traffic and parking probably would spill over into the neighborhoods.”
Rea said the company would work with the town to develop suitable hours of operation but did not want to begin tailoring how Joe’s would do business so soon in the process.
In the end, Mayor Pro Tem Bill Sisson’s comments about the restaurant summarized the board’s position on the proposal: “I would reiterate what Elizabeth [King] said about having the restaurant here — it would be great to have it here and I have worked hard to beautify that area,” Sisson said. “But I am acutely aware of the impact what the lack of parking will have on the adjacent streets and neighborhood … I can’t in good conscience put any more burden on those folks.”
The board of aldermen unanimously approved a 30-year lease with the North Carolina Coastal Federation for the relocation of the historic Palmgren-O’Quinn house to a lot on the town’s property next to the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History and Wrightsville Beach Visitors Center. Beginning April 15, the lease will run until April 15, 2043, with the stipulations that the building must be located on the lot by Dec. 31 of this year and that all renovations must be completed by June 2014.
Like the museum and visitors center, the NCCF will be charged an annual rent of $1 to use the home for its regional headquarters. Alderman Darryl Mills inquired why the rent was so low, and the same as the museum and visitor’s center.
“I see what the chamber [of commerce] and museum do for us, but what would the coastal federation do for us?” Mills said.
In response, NCCF southeast regional manager Tracey Skrabal said the NCCF’s monetary investment in moving and renovating the house would work out to be a much larger monthly rent figure if stretched over the 30 years of the lease. Skrabal also said the target audience for the NCCF’s programs and events hosted at the new location would be the Wrightsville Beach residents, their children and surrounding neighborhoods.