02/16/05 — Vote on base zoning may be delayed

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Vote on base zoning may be delayed

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 16, 2005 2:14 PM

The Wayne County commissioners are considering postponing a vote on a proposed zoning ordinance around Seymour Johnson Air Force Base until next year.

Commissioner Atlas Price also suggested extending the building moratorium in the area around the base until January 2006, after federal authorities announce which military bases in the U.S. will be closed.

The federal Base Realignment and Closure commission (BRAC) is expected to announce its decisions in November.

"I'm hoping that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base will stay right where it is," Price said during Tuesday's commission meeting. "But if we do all of this, and then the base doesn't stay . . ."

The commissioners had planned to approve a package of zoning and development rules next month for thousands of acres around the base, as well as areas in which the average noise level is above 65 decibels.

A moratorium on building, enacted by the commissioners in December 2003, has prohibited new subdivisions and mobile home parks in the high-noise areas.

The commissioners were prompted to act by a report commissioned by local officials and business leaders, delivered in 2003. The report said that both the city and county were allowing too much development close to the base.

Some areas near the ends of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's runways are considered crash-potential zones. The county wants to keep development out of these areas or at least limit it.

The county's current proposal would affect about 26 square miles of land. New homes would no longer be allowed in areas with noise levels that average more than 75 decibels, although other construction would be permitted.

Land that is not now zoned would typically be zoned R-20, which allows one home per half-acre. Some areas now zoned R-20 would be changed to R-30, which requires almost three-quarters of an acre per home.

In areas with average noise levels of less than 65 decibels, builders would not need to use any special materials. But homebuyers would receive a notice that their property is located in a high-noise area.

County Manager Lee Smith said that Price made a good point.

"Realignment is the key," Smith said. "We could be in for other aircraft that has different noise levels and if we approve the new ordinance in March, it could be meaningless."

Commissioner Jack Best agreed to postpone a vote on the proposed ordinance, but he said that the board needs to make it clear that the county is willing to put the zoning in place if the base stays or realigns.

"We need to give a clear-cut understanding about that," Best said.

Price said that by postponing the vote until the decision about the base was made, the commissioners could make a "better and more informed decision" about what the regulations should be."

Smith said the board should continue with its plans to hold a public hearing on the proposed zoning, even though the commissioner's vote would probably be postponed.

"The only way the standards would change is if the realignment changes," Smith said.

Almost 75 people showed up later Tuesday for a public hearing on the proposed zoning plan, but only seven spoke.

Joe Daughtery and Ed Wharton both said they weren't opposed to the recommendations from an engineering firm, but said that the county's planning department wanted to enforce stricter requirements.

The county Planning Board has recommended that new construction in the affected area require builders to install insulation that would keep the noise level inside to 60 decibels or less. The planning department recommended a noise level reduction of 25 decibels inside the 65-decibel zone, 30 decibels inside the 70-decibel zone and 35 decibels inside the 75-decibel zone.

The Planning Board would not require a noise disclosure statement on a plat for property outside the 65-decibel level. The Planning Department said the statement should be required for property in that area.

"I think that's over-regulation," Daughtery said.

Local surveyor Mike Benton said he has a client that is in the process of developing a subdivision under the current regulations. Benton asked that this subdivision, or any others in progress, not have to comply with the proposed rules.

Jim May said his family has owned property in the affected area for more than 100 years, and that he wants to keep the area zoned residential and agricultural.

John Smith said he doesn't think the base is going to close, and added that the property owners in the area just want to "be left alone."

George Carberry told the commissioners that doing nothing would convince the BRAC team that the county "wouldn't raise a hand to protect Seymour Johnson Air Force Base from closure or to protect its citizens well-being, either physically or economically."

"Let's close Seymour Johnson Air Force Base," Carberry said, "and see how low Wayne County can go and how long it will take it to rebound."

Max Best drew thunderous applause from the audience when he said that he was "bothered more by boom boxes at 8 p.m. than by any airplanes."

Best said that if the proposed ordinance was passed, property values in the affected are would decrease.

"This is a violation of the rights of tax-paying citizens," Best said. "I don't know exactly what I'll do if it passes, but I will use all legal resources available."