Belville: The Town with a Plan
By Becky Jordan
Just as the mythical Phoenix rose from the ashes to begin life anew, so will the town of Belville in the next few months. The artistic renderings in The Belville Town Plan Charette Booklet depict a downtown scene vibrant with culture, a place where people can gather for some great food, river front views, and a proud sense of community.
“I think that the waterfront of the new downtown will be a drawing card for boaters coming from other communities: Wilmington, Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and many other areas along the Cape Fear River and Intracoastal Waterway. It will be a unique way to visit the town, to shop, dine, and relax. I’d like for the town to think of possibly managing this new avenue into town, since the whole waterfront will most likely be open public areas,” Commissioner Dennis Taylor said.
The town’s most recent claim to fame is the burning down of the Town & Country motel. The motel was once a haven for crime, and its presence greatly contributed to the run-down condition of the downtown area. Shortly after the fire, the Town of Belville held “Operation Clean-up Day” in an attempt to clear the area in which the hotel once stood. Town residents, friends, local businesses, town council, and staff assisted in the downtown event. All volunteers helped take the first step forward in revitalizing downtown Belville into a cleaner, more ”eye-friendly” area.
Belville’s current administration has a solid vision for the downtown area’s revitalization.
“We have a solid town staff and have planned for smart growth,” Long said. “I would argue that our planning board is among the best in the state.”
Currently the administration is focused on establishing codes and ordinances to ensure that Belville’s future development remains in line with the proposed revitalization.
“We currently have a moratorium in place, so that we can prepare our ordinances to reflect the proper way to redevelop the downtown area. Having that set of rules and guidelines in place before the rush to develop our new town is vital,” said Commissioner Dennis Taylor.
The cleanup around the site of the Belville Motel is a testament to the dedication of the town’s officials in carrying out the will of the public.
“The town came together through a series of meetings to give input as well as opinions on the next steps, in our strategic planning process. Downtown was the big focus for the greater percentage of the population,” said Long.
Belville has seen tremendous growth in the short time it has been an incorporated town. The area began as little more than a stop for tourists heading south to destinations like Myrtle Beach. Twenty years ago there were only a handful of commercial businesses in the town, including a Wilson’s grocery store, a gas station, and a Maxways. Town hall was located in the back of a sporting goods/beverage store (where the Scotchman on Hwy 133 now resides). Today, however, the town has an estimated population of 1200 residents and counting.
Longtime Leland resident Diane Bridgers has observed the changes and looks forward to things to come.
“I think that there is a need for more restaurants, craft stores, artistic shops, a fresh market, and maybe even a gallery. There are plenty of artists in this area that could support some cultural centers,” Bridgers said.
The rise in both property taxes and home values in New Hanover County has contributed to the population increase. Also attracting people to the area is the I-140 expressway which links New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties and increases access to major hospitals, schools, and the airport.
This was a major selling point to current Mayor David Long. “My wife and I moved to this area 4.5-5 years ago from Wilmington because of the location. Our proximity to the airport as well as the hospitals was the greatest appeal,” said Long.
Long’s journey to mayor began a few years ago after a neighborhood barbeque.
“Jean Rhodes, current Mayor Pro Tem, was a commissioner at the time and talked to me about an opening on the ABC board, which I accepted. Then, a commissioner spot opened about 2 years ago, so I did that. Mike King was elected mayor, and after his 2nd board meeting 1 year ago he stepped down. I was appointed and the rest is history,” Long said.
Long’s position on the hospital administration at Pender has contributed to his knowledge of running a smooth staff.
“We have a real team approach here in Belville. Guys like Bill Sue, Delaney Aycock, George Page, Sheriff Hewett & Osey Sanders are a major part of the towns’ success,” said Long.
The majority of Belville was once part of the 280-acre Belville Plantation, home to North Carolina governor Daniel Lindsay Russell, who served from 1897-1901. In Russell’s time the land was used to grow rice. Today, twenty-two acres of the original plantation is Brunswick River Park. The park hosts regular festivities and is an oasis of playgrounds, picnic tables, and most importantly a public boat ramp, Belville’s launching point for kayak, canoe, and fishing enthusiasts. Located off of Highway 133, Brunswick River Park will soon connect with the Gateway Enhancement Project; inclusion in this project will provide the park with walker/bike friendly paths, slower speed limits, and beautiful landscaping to rival other coastal towns.
“When all is said and done, I think the residents of Belville can say, this is my town, it has character, it has my input into its growth, and we are proud to live here. Also, the county is going to be adding some bike and walking trails in the county park to the south of downtown, and hopefully the town can connect with those to give visitors and residents another avenue for a leisurely way tosee the New Belville,” Commissioner Taylor said.
Read more about the Belville Town Plan at www.townofbelville.com.