Timing for hearing is ridiculous

Published 5:06 pm Friday, July 1, 2016

To the Editor:

Dear Chairman [Dallas] Jones and members of the Board of Supervisors for Southampton County:
Holding the public hearing on Monday, July 5, the day after a holiday weekend, is just ridiculous. It seems like you are holding the hearing on this date in order to minimize the attendance of the public, because of people extending vacations and other reasons around the July 4th weekend. Given how critical this decision is, it is inconceivable to me that the Board of Supervisors would even consider doing this without giving residents of Southampton County the opportunity to be heard on a more appropriate date.

That’s why I am writing today, urging you to take no action on the proposal to rezone the farmland across from the High Street United Methodist Church on Camp Parkway on July the 5th, 2016.

All of us in Southampton County understand the need for more economic development, but not in an area that for more than 13 years has been reserved for residential growth and agriculture. Southampton County already has over 500,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space and over 380 acres of land zoned for industrial use in more appropriate areas (approximate totals from the Franklin Southampton Economic Development Website), so we are “Open for Business” already. This is not a case of ‘Build it and they will come.’ We have warehouses built, we have land ready to build on and the warehousing and land totals are for what is available in our area only. Look at what is available and still empty around us. Suffolk has a brand new development that is still empty. Where is the demand for warehouse space that keeps getting talked about? No one has been able to show the demand.

Franklin Southampton Economic Development should be working to develop the small businesses in the county. It is through this development that a strong culture and lifestyle will be instilled in the area, and this is what will draw in the bigger businesses that they are trying to lure in. It takes more than large tracts of land zoned for industrial use to bring in the money-making, job-providing businesses that everyone is talking about.

The County spent $30 million to build a sewage treatment plant large enough to handle the anticipated increase in sewage needs based on the intention and promise of this developer building homes for people on the same land, and they have decided that now they don’t want to build homes, but want to rezone to industrial. Are you kidding me? The people of the county are stuck paying for something that we only use 20 percent of, and we are going to pay for more to support the development of this project. Just the need for dedicated paid fire department crews and new fire engine to service this development should be cause for caution. Where are you going to house the new crews and engine? Are you planning to start paying the volunteer crews in the area, etc.?

Camp Parkway is an important entrance into the City of Franklin and Hunterdale areas. There is a regular inflow and outflow of school buses and parents dropping kids off at the elementary school, in and out of the church and the Boy Scout Troop area, as well as the rest of us who travel up and down Camp Parkway on a daily basis. There are businesses who have built to capitalize on the country lifestyle and provide horse-riding lessons, and you will even see the occasional equestrian riding contest being held. This is a thriving area where people have built lives and invested their money and pay significant taxes to the County.

My wife and I personally investigated the area and chose to buy here based on what the plan was for the area, and the listing said “Bring your Horses and Enjoy the Country Life.” To have to deal with the amount of semi tractor-trailers and drivers on tight schedules servicing this industrial area, which the developer has stated will be using this road, is unconscionable. I appreciate that the developer has offered a set of proffers, but that doesn’t change the reality of traffic and safety in an area that has been developing in a country/residential way for over a decade. The developer knew it was slated for residential development when he bought the property. The Planning Commission has stated it was to stay in the Comprehensive Plan as Agricultural/Residential. It was only during this last round of Comprehensive Plan changes that the Mixed Use Category was added to mask the Light Industrial wording.

We all know that trying to change the Comprehensive Plan to reflect this area as Light Industrial only would have raised significant alarms across the county, so the New Mixed Use Designation was created as the “beard” to disguise the direction that was planned for this area, even though it is contradictory to what has been planned for this area for over a decade and promised to the people of Southampton County. I do not believe that anyone reading the Mixed Use Term would think that it would include M-1 Light Industrial. We already have a designation in the Comprehensive Plan for that; why would the M-1 Light Industrial Designation be included in another Comprehensive Plan Designation like Mixed Use?

The Planning Commission said it best with their ‘1 in Favor and 8 Against the Proposal to Rezone,’ this is the wrong area to put this development. It will destroy a thriving neighborhood and multiple small business, an already well-established and growing tax base. We have areas that are already zoned for this type of development, the developer should have bought in those areas.

The zoning must remain as it is. It was a smart decision in 2003, and given the investment families like mine have made since then, it’s an even the smarter one now.

Very respectfully,
Thomas K. Perri