Electric vehicle heartburn spreads to Wilmington City Council


The Wilmington City Council may reconsider its electric vehicle mandate at its March 19 meeting. (Port City Daily/file photo)

WILMINGTON — A component of the City of Wilmington’s 2021 land code update is under scrutiny.

READ MORE: Split vote, developer pushback tables NHC’s EV-ready space requirement

The city currently requires developers to dedicate at least 2% of its surface parking to electric vehicle charging and have 4% of its spaces “electric-vehicle ready.” After planning staff put forward a clarifying amendment to the rule at Monday’s agenda briefing, council member Luke Waddell questioned the requirement. 

“I have no issues whatsoever with electric vehicles, and could even support some sort of incentivization for EVs, but a blanket mandate is government overreach and is nothing less than that,” Waddell said. 

He explained mandates like the EV requirement put unnecessary burdens on developers, drawing on his conversations with some who according to Waddell, have said they had to put projects on hold because of the requirement.

According to New Hanover County Planning Director Rebekah Roth, the cost to install a conduit is between $1.50 and $3 per foot and it would be a greater expense to tear up pavement, retrofit spots and install electrical panels for charging stations after-the-fact. 

The electric vehicle rule was put in place in 2021, among a slew of other updates to the code. It was implemented to accommodate the growing use of EVs.

The changes to the land code passed unanimously in 2021, though Waddell was not on city council at the time. However, Charlie Rivenbark was, though he expressed distaste for the EV rule Tuesday as well.

“Let the market take care of itself,” Rivenbark said. “Developer sees fit to do this to enhance his project, let it be.” 

The topic of EV mandates caused a stir with the New Hanover County commissioners last year, when planning staff put forward a proposal to require developers to make 20% of their parking spaces EV-ready, capping at 15 spaces. This involves installing underground conduits that could eventually be transformed into charging stations. 

The rule would apply to all uses —  commercial to industrial — on projects with more than 25 spaces, but it would not apply to single-family residential. The requirement would rise to 30% for multi-family complexes and apartments, hotels and parking decks.

Several local developers pushed against the mandate, wary of government interference when many were already putting EV charging stations on their own. The developers were also concerned with changing technology, the cost burden of installing the chargers and maintaining them and slowing down the already complicated approval process.

Ultimately, NHC commissioners voted 3-2 —  with EV-requirement naysayers Dane Scalise and LeAnn Pierce dissenting — to table a vote until June. Commissioners advised staff to collaborate with the community and make changes to the text before its approval.

Wilmington’s rule requires less EV spots and also does not require a certain level of EV station to be installed. Charging stations are typically divided into level 1 and 2 based on voltage amounts; fast-charging stations are also an option. 

“If you had a light pole and you put an outlet in it, we consider that a charging station,” Linda Painter, director of planning and development, said at the meeting. She added that car owners were responsible for providing their own adapter.

At least one council member professed support for keeping the requirement. 

“It took me a year and a half to get a plug-in hybrid vehicle — that’s what the demand is out there,” new council member Salette Andrews said. “So the market is taking care of itself, as far as people are buying these vehicles and they need a place to plug them in.”

As of November 2023, there are currently 55 EV charging stations spread across New Hanover County, with 11 located within Mayfaire Town Center and 12 downtown, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s alternative fuels data center. 

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that the Wilmington area have 28 level 2 workplace charging plugs, 38 level 2 public charging plugs, and five public DC Fast charging plugs by 2024. By 2026, the U.S. Department of Energy anticipates those numbers to more than double.

Andrews added she thought the 2% EV space requirement was a “super low bar,” especially considering it doesn’t come with a voltage requirement. She pointed out a parking lot with 50 spaces would only have to equip one space with a charging outlet and developers were not barred from charging residents for using it.

Still, Waddell said just the principle of the requirement was wrong.

“Whether there’s one or 100 is irrelevant, in my opinion,” Waddell said. “We’re mandating what somebody has to do with their property and inadvertently causing additional costs to the developer, which will certainly be passed on to the tenant or the property owner.” 

Waddell then focused on how those added costs would adversely affect the affordability of homes. 

“We can say all day long we can jump up and throw platitudes at affordable housing,” Waddell said. “We do it — everybody does it up here. But when we continue to back policies like this. We are spitting in the face of everybody who’s having trouble with affordable housing and I’ll continue to advocate against it.” 

The amendment to the code, which simplifies the process of determining how many units need to have EV chargers, will be brought back to the council at its March 19 meeting.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at

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