Rezoning not recommended for lots donated to Habitat for Humanity

Published 8:09 am Wednesday, May 5, 2010

FRANKLIN—After hearing concerns from residents and business owners, the city Planning Commission voted 4-2 not to recommend that the City Council approve Habitat for Humanity’s rezoning request to build two houses on donated land on the northern edge of downtown.

Among the issues raised during a public hearing were concerns about flooding, noise and traffic from nearby businesses and preserving the character of the city’s historic district.

Southampton/Franklin Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit that provides interest-free loans to people who would not otherwise be able to purchase a home, asked for the conditional rezoning of .48 acres at Gardner and North Franklin streets. The area is currently zoned for general business, and the request is to rezone it to residential.

Powell Farms Rentals approached Habitat’s Board of Directors about donating the property, said Nita Holt of Southampton/Franklin Habitat for Humanity.

“Having a lot donated to us will reduce the cost of the house to the homeowners,” Holt said.

Donald Goodwin, the city’s director of community development, said the area is designated for mixed-use under the city’s comprehensive plan.

“I almost think that it would take a change in our (comprehensive) plan to support detached single-family homes because of the mixed-use designation,” he said.

Goodwin also said the lots are in an area prone to flooding.

“We have considered the flooding issue,” Holt said. “It’s not new to us.”

Larry Joyner, a co-owner of nearby Motor Works, spoke against the rezoning.

“We have to question the quality of life that a family living next door to us would have,” Joyner said, adding they test chainsaws, lawnmowers and other equipment at all hours.

“We fully support Habitat for Humanity and their objectives,” Joyner said. “We just feel that allowing homes to be built in these small lots in this high-traffic commercial area is a recipe for disaster and will cause a lot more problems than solutions for these potential families.”

David Drewry, another nearby business owner, presented 29 signatures from people who are against the rezoning.

Planning Commission Chairman Daniel Peak Jr. said this wasn’t the first time a similar request had come before the commission.

“We wrangled with this a number of years ago after the flood, and I well recall how everybody in the area did not want it zoned residential and it doesn’t sound to me like anything has changed,” Peak said.

Commissioner Lawyer Artis Jr. said there had been a push to get people living downtown and the land has been zoned for business and sat vacant for years.

“I tend to think that we need to look seriously at doing what it takes to get people downtown,” he said.

The commission’s “no” recommendation now goes to the City Council, which will make the final decision on the rezoning.

Holt said she plans to speak when the issue comes before the City Council.

“For us, it would be a blessing to build two houses here,” she said.