It may be the smallest (population wise) county in metro Wilmington, but big things are in store for Pender County.
Kyle M. Breuer, Pender County’s director of planning and community development, said his office has issued more than 450 building permits totaling nearly $33 million in investment so far this year.
If the county’s building momentum continues for the rest of 2012, it could smash 2011’s total of 518 permits issued to builders – bringing the county closer to pre-recession building levels.
“I wouldn’t call it a boom yet,” Breuer said. “But permitting for new construction in the county remains steady and looks like it’s continuing to rise.”
Many of the permits issued are for single-family residential construction, but commercial permitting activity remains impressive – especially for a county posting the region’s highest unemployment rate and lacking some basic infrastructure for rapid development such as sewer capacity.
“There are more active commercial projects now than there have been in the five years that I’ve been here,” Breuer said. “It’s definitely encouraging to see.”
Arguably one of the largest new-construction retail projects in the region is currently underway in Hampstead in the eastern half of the county – an area Breuer said was carrying the bulk of the county’s new construction projects.
Called Hampstead Town Center, the 14.12 acres, $14 million, 81,970- square-foot development is currently under construction at the intersection of U.S. Highway 17 and Ravenswood Road.
The project will be anchored by a 44,170-square-foot Lowes Food, while the remaining retail units and outparcels are being marketed for future leases and development.
Rick Rowe, president of Raleigh-based Wakefield Associates that’s actively leasing the Hampstead development, said the retail units are being leased in phases. He said officials are leasing 20,300 square feet of retail space in phase one. Phase two leasing will involve leasing 17,500 square feet.
“Right now, we have 65 percent of phase one leased,” Rowe said, while not disclosing the center’s new tenants until retail contracts are returned.
“We’ve been actively marketing and executing leases on the development prior to closing on the site.”
Rowe said the firm closed on the Hampstead site Sept. 10 for an undisclosed amount, but the firm has been trying to break ground on the development since 2007.
“Obviously, when the economy went south we went through a holding pattern,” he said. “The banks were not going to lease money to retail developments unless they see pre-leases exceed 65 percent.”
Rowe said the firm was also ramping up marketing efforts to lease three outparcel sites. He said one site would serve as a Lowes Fueling Center, while the other two are seeing interest from various retailers and restaurants.
He said the center’s location has piqued the interest of potential retailers.
“We’re in a strong residential pocket of the county that has tremendous traffic volume,” Rowe said. “We’re also across from Topsail High School, and we feel the center is going to draw a lot from Hampstead and will serve as a central retail destination for the area.”
Breuer added that more retail activity is also occurring in Rocky Point near the intersection of U.S. Highway 117 and N.C. Highway 210, where an auto retail store is eyeing an outparcel in front of Food Lion and construction on a new McDonalds
is currently underway. He said construction work was also underway on the Bailey Shoppes development along U.S. Highway 17, where a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Realo Discount Drug Store will be located.
Residential activity is also increasing as housing inventories regionwide begins to decrease.
According to regional housing experts estimates, 35-40 percent of the Wilmington market within eight months might have no new-construction homes available to purchase.
Nowhere is that more prevalent than in Pender County, where Breuer said his office is seeing an increase in new single-family activity as military families, retirees and commuters to Wilmington take advantage of the moderately-priced new starter home communities and quick access to Wilmington and Jacksonville.
So far, more than 140 permits have been issued for new single-family development throughout the county.
And even more units are being planned, especially in eastern Pender County.
The Pender County Planning Board recently approved a master plan site revision for a 1,032-unit, mixed-use subdivision south of Country Club Drive near Hampstead.
Called Hawksbill Cove, plans for the 376-acre development include 475 single-family lots, 335 multifamily units, 161 townhome units and 52 duplex units – all to be completed in phases starting in 2014. The development also calls for 23,000 square feet of retail and office space, down from 250,000 square feet when the development was first proposed and approved in December 2010, and 28,000 square feet for future civic uses.
“It’s not gangbuster growth, but it’s an indication that development activity and inquiries are picking up,” Breuer said. “We hope to see more activity throughout the year.”
By J. Elias O’Neal