05/21/04 — Land owners opposed to zoning around base

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Land owners opposed to zoning around base

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on May 21, 2004 2:05 PM

Wayne County officials plan to halt -- for now -- a proposal to tighten development rules in high-noise areas around Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's flight lines.

The county commissioners said Thursday that the proposal needs to be revised, in light of complaints raised in a two-hour, occasionally raucous hearing.

"We cannot solve everyone's problems, but we will do the best that we can," Chairman J.D. Evans told a crowd of around 125.

Steve Brannan

News-Argus/Matt Shaw

Steve Brannan warns the Wayne County commissioners that "you're messing with God's people." He was one of several speakers concerned about proposed zoning rules that would stop some churches near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base from expanding.

The commissioners had intended to vote on the zoning package at their next meeting, so the new rules would be in place when the moratorium on new subdivisions and mobile home parks in areas around the base expires on June 2.

Now they will send the proposal back to the Planning Board for more study. The board is also going to extend the moratorium, although it's possible the county may allow some stalled projects to proceed.

The county wants to put new restrictions on development around the flight paths into and out of the base. The proposal would establish zoning on nearly 7 square miles for the first time, rezone nearly 20 square miles, and establish new building guidelines. The changes would affect around 3,000 properties.

Officials say the changes are needed to protect people from loud jet noise and the potential for accidents. But they are also intended to keep new homes and development from crowding the base and interfering with training.

Nearly 30 people spoke at Thursday's hearing, and nearly all were careful to say they support the base.

But they were also nearly as unified against the rules as proposed.

Many objected to proposed restrictions on churches. New churches would not be allowed in some areas with the highest potential for accidents, while churches in other areas would need to include noise-dampening materials in new construction.

Brogden United Methodist Church would not be able to expand its membership because the materials would be cost prohibitive, said Ann Sullivan, of Wildwood Drive. "Allowing businesses like bars and restaurants to expand, while restricting churches," would be "wrong, indecent and immoral."

And Steve Brannan of Walnut Creek Drive warned the commissioners, "You're messing with God's people. You're messing with God's property."

Several people also complained that the proposed rezoning would rob them of their land's usefulness.

Roger Moore of Jacksonville owns a share of 82 acres near the Case Farms chicken-processing plant on Pecan Road. The land is now zoned for homes but is proposed for light industry. "Who'd want to open a factory out there?" he asked.

And Elizabeth Smith wondered about the industries that would be interested in her 12 acres on Long's Plant Farm Road. That land has been in her family for 100 years.

"That land is part of our past, our present and, we had hoped, our future," she said. But children and grandchildren would not be allowed to build homes on land zoned for industry.

John Smith of Pecan Road complained that the county's zoning in that area has hurt his family.

"Has Seymour Johnson asked for this?" he asked. Perhaps the neighbors should "consider possible lawsuits against Seymour Johnson for the damage they have caused."

Joe Daughtery of Breezewood Road noted that the proposed regulations would require all property owners in the "airport overlay district" to disclose to potential buyers that the land is in a high-noise and accident-potential zone. That would hurt property values, he said.

Only two people spoke in favor of the rules.

Jimmie Edmundson, a Goldsboro banker who's been active on several military committees, told the board that the public may be ignoring dangers because Seymour Johnson has an excellent safety record.

He likened the new rules to seatbelt laws, unpopular when first instituted but proven with time.

And George Carberry talked about how much the base supports the local economy. He noted that it employs 6,600 people, or as many as the counties' top 12 industries combined.

"Can you imagine the economic disaster a base closing would cause in the real and rental property community?" he said. "Six months after the last airman leaves, you won't be able to give away a house in Wayne County."

The commissioners generally did not respond to remarks, although most seemed to listen intently.

Two commissioners could not attend Thursday's hearing for personal reasons. Commissioners Andy Anderson and Jack Best say they plan to watch videotapes of the hearing before the June 1 meeting.

The county does not plan to show the tape on PACC-10 as it does with regular meetings.

Anyone who still wants to submit comments can do so to wayne.commissioners@ncmail.net.