Planning recommends zoning amendment

Published 7:37 pm Friday, November 15, 2019

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All but three members of the Southampton County Planning Commission on Thursday night voted to recommend a zoning map amendment, and those who did acknowledged their reluctance.

At issue was whether or not 242.87 acres could be rezoned from A-1 Agricultural to CM-2, Conditional General Industrial. The property belongs to Paul Thomas and Patricia Beale Milteer and Thomas Hart Milteer, who have the land on both sides of Rose Valley Road, about 1,200 feet south of the intersection with General Thomas Highway, all are within the Franklin voting and magisterial districts.

Should the Board of Supervisors ultimately vote for the amendment, that would enable the county to buy the land only if a business expressed definite interest in acquiring the property.

The subject first came up in a public hearing during Planning’s meeting in October. The commissioners decided afterward to continue the matter this month, beginning with an open comment period. According to chairman Michael Drake, that enabled the panel to make progress in the matter without having to advertise another public hearing.

At the start, Jay Brenchick, president and CEO of the Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., was again before the commissioners to represent the Milteers. During his presentation, which went into depth about the area’s development history, Brenchick said, “The potential to rezone these properties and surrounding properties has been in the comprehensive place since 1988, and the comprehensive plan is updated every five to six years. The 2015-2025 CP was adopted on June 22, 2015.”

He added that residents can visit and type in Comprehensive Plan for its history and details.

Vice chairman Jack Randall questioned about the cost of the land. He repeatedly expressed concerns about the money the County has spent in the past for potential property, only to have little to nothing to show for it.

Fellow commissioner Doug Chesson noted the use of the word ‘bond’ in Brenchick’s presentation.

“When I hear ‘bond,’ I think ‘debt,’” said Chesson. “Who is the debtor?” To which the FSEDI leader replied, “The County.”

Commissioner Robert White wondered about wetland protection, and Brenchick said the family wants to include tax parcel 92-54, which is composed of forested wetland.

“That ties in well with storm water mitigation and quality. We’re willing to proffer so it remains left alone,” he said. “That will maintain a buffer for residential neighbors. It will remain that way. It’s not going to make sense to cut those trees.”

Drake said “We’re not in ballgame for heavy industrial. Most of time we have to say we don’t have enough land for heavy industrial.”

He asked Brenchick what could he say to concerned residents living around the property in question, to which the CEO said he feels bad for those who could be negatively impacted by any business development. But, he added, considering there have been conversations for decades about potential growth [in that area], “It’s hard to say you couldn’t see this coming. … It’s important to follow the Comprehensive Plan.”

Commissioner Lynette Allston said, “The character of area has changed since 1988. Seventeen houses were built since then. That’s a significant number. Four years ago, we should have made an alteration to that layout. We want business development, but we have to be smart about it. I worry about environmental concerns. I’m not comfortable to that.”

Richard Railey, who serves as attorney to the County, reminded the pane, “What you are voting on is rezoning and proffers, not the Comprehensive Plan.”

When Drake invited audience members to speak, Glenn Updike of Newsoms called the matter a “most unorthodox situation. We can’t afford to deal with people without a heart. Are we representing the big dogs or citizens of the county? I hope and pray you turn it down flat. Vote it down.”

Brenda Lowery said, “Most people do the research when it comes to buying a house. No one has a duty to tell me. People have to be responsible.”

Susan Lassiter told the commissioners, “My family has been here over 100 years. We don’t want it in our backyard. I’m not one of the new ones.”

She noted that while Brenchick could eventually move elsewhere, that was not an option for her or other neighbors. “You all do need to think about this. They don’t want anymore Enviva in their backyard.”

Patricia Justice said she thought could retire in that area. “It bothers me that I should have researched. It kind of breaks my heart.”

J. Cary Copeland added, “Obviously, I don’t want it either,” then directed his concern to a comment that Brenchick made which Copeland thought was offensive. “Technically, I was called ignorant.”

He then urged the matter not be voted on until the new board of supervisors is in place.

Brenchick faced the audience to say that he certainly had not intended to say anything insulting to or about anyone.

During the commissioners’ discussion, Randall said of their responsibility, “We’re the administrators. The Board of Supervisors is the policy. We have fiduciary responsibility to do what’s best for the county. [For example, something that’s bad for Sedley, but good for county. That being said, I have to be for this application. I feel bad about the 17 homes, but this can’t be undone. I am looking what’s best for Southampton County.”

White concurred, ‘I’m with Jack on this. I will vote to approve.”

Chesson said he was impressed by 100-plus signatures on a petition. “We have to look at the county as a whole. I wish we had addressed noise issues and buffers.”

J. Michael Mann, Bill Day, Bruce Phillips and Keith Tennessee also stated similar reasoning as the vice chairman.

Tennessee added, ”No, I would not want it in my back yard. There have been two bad mistakes: Camp Parkway — development didn’t come. We didn’t get to vote on Enviva. The commissioners never got to vote on it. Tough as it may be, I would have to support [the zoning amendment.]”

Allston said, “I cannot see compounding the problem for them [the residents]. I worry about wetlands and the encroachment into rural, beautiful farmland. I would vote against this.”

Drake again called Brenchick to the podium. “You’ve heard discussion. I think consensus is to recommend, though not unanimous. Most of us like Enviva. Can you make some statement of reassurance? I’m trying to find a compromise.”

Brenchick replied, “It’s a real challenge. There’s an excellent chance to develop [the land]. Truthfully, I don’t know what we can get for prospects.”

All but Drake, Chesson and Allston voted to recommend the rezoning.