FAQs

New Hanover County’s new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) will provide the community with a combined set of zoning, subdivision, stormwater, flood, and erosion control regulations in a single document. The creation of the combined UDO is not a new way to regulate development, but a better way to organize both documents for the many developers, site designers, reviewers, residents, and decision-makers who use them. The combination of the county’s multiple sets of regulations in one document ensures that the rules of development in the county are easy to access, work in tandem with one another, and provide for the kind of development anticipated in the county’s adopted plans.

Zoning regulations are rules and standards adopted by the New Hanover County Board of County Commissioners that establish the basic, common requirements for property development on an individual lot. Zoning regulations establish the different types of development districts in the county, such as residential, commercial or industrial, and identify appropriate standards for lot size, building placement, height of structures, and uses in those districts. Zoning regulations typically include standards for the basic design of features such as parking lots, landscaping, parks and open spaces, commercial lighting, and rural character conservation. The county’s current zoning regulations can be found here.

Subdivision regulations are rules and standards adopted by the New Hanover County Board of County Commissioners that establish how land is divided into lots for development. Subdivision regulations also identify the county’s requirements for appropriate public infrastructure within the subdivision, such as access and streets, lot layout, utilities, water supply, and stormwater drainage. The county’s current subdivision regulations can be found here.

In addition to combining the county’s land development regulations into a single document, the creation of the New Hanover County UDO is a project that is designed to modernize the regulations and provide local standards for future development in the county. The Board of Commissioners recently adopted the county’s first Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which outlines a vision for how the county will grow over the next 25 years. However, the current zoning and subdivision regulations are becoming outdated in sections and may not serve as the most effective tool for development in many parts of the county. In addition, the current stormwater regulations can be improved to better address anticipated stormwater issues in the face of increased development pressure.

The UDO project gives New Hanover County residents an opportunity to provide their input into the standards that will work in conjunction with the Comprehensive Plan to guide the next twenty plus years of growth in the county.

If long-range planning initiatives are far enough along in the development process to identify standards that should be added or amended in the draft UDO, those standards will be included in this project. Similarly, future long-range planning initiatives that may have recommendations for code standards can be placed into the UDO through the text amendment process. Long-range studies and plans, as well as the UDO, are tools to assist with the implementation of the vision for the county created in PlanNHC.

The main goals of the New Hanover County UDO project are:

  • Update the current use standards to anticipate the impact and development of a full range of uses in the county over the next 25 years;
  • Create a range of zone districts with enough flexibility to address uses of different sizes and scales across the county while protecting residential neighborhoods;
  • Reflect the county’s preferences for open spaces along with preservation of natural resources and environmentally sensitive areas; and
  • Make the regulations more user-friendly for both residents and decision-makers through the elimination of conflicts and contradictions that exist in the current regulations, reorganization to make key provisions easier to find, increased use of tables and graphics, and more complete internal instructions about how the regulations work.

Plan NHC, the county’s Comprehensive Plan, encourages mixed-use development patterns in the unincorporated areas of the county outside of city limits.

Mixed-use zoning districts permit the development of residential structures/uses and non-residential structures/uses (typically commercial) in the same zone district. This is different from the way zoning has traditionally worked since the 1920s, where residential uses are separated from all other uses. Mixed-use development is closer to the way many communities developed historically where both necessity and preference kept people closer to the places they work and shop.

The UDO will include a range of mixed-use zone districts that will permit both residential and commercial development in the same district and even in the same building. The regulations in these districts will address both the mix of uses and the layout of the buildings in a way that enables compact and walkable development at the different levels of intensity identified by Plan NHC. For example, this may consist of a district that allows single-family detached homes and row homes on relatively small lots, along with neighborhood commercial uses, such as a grocery store, bank, restaurants and coffee shops, and personal services such as a barber, pet groomer, or real estate office. Civic uses, such as schools and places of worship, may also be permitted in such a district, along with public spaces designed to create a sense of community.

There will be specific instructions in the UDO and an administrative manual addressing the transition between the old and new regulations. This section will identify how to proceed with pending applications, recent approvals, and properties with outstanding violations when the new regulations take effect.

As the UDO is drafted in sections, there will be opportunities to provide input on the proposed drafts, which will follow a Public Engagement Strategy. Regular notifications with meeting details will be provided through Planning’s email notices.

If you would like to receive project notifications, please sign up through any of the “Sign Up for Updates” boxes on this website or here.

If you have already signed-up for the county’s general “Planning Public Notices” email option, you will receive project information. Additionally, visit this website frequently for project updates and to participate in community survey and discussion questions.

The New Hanover County Planning & Land Use Department staff is managing the project. You can reach Ken Vafier, County Planning Manager, at 910-798-7281 or by email at kvafier@nhcgov.com.

New Hanover County is working with LSL Planning/SAFEbuilt of Northglenn, Colorado, and Thomas & Hutton of Savannah, Georgia, to prepare the new UDO.

Please use the “Contact Us” option from the sidebar and a county planner will be in touch.

230 Government Center Drive, Suite 110 • Wilmington, NC 28403
Planning & Land Use: Phone 910-798-7165 • Fax 910-798-7053
Building Safety: Phone 910-798-7308 • Fax 910-798-7811
Engineering: Phone 910-798-7139 • Fax 910-798-7051