07/25/07 — Duplin officials ponder zoning, land use issues

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Duplin officials ponder zoning, land use issues

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 25, 2007 1:45 PM

Zoning and land use issues haven't been broached in Duplin County in the last two or three years, but they're beginning to be discussed again by some county officials, including commission Chairman David Fussell.

"I think it's time we look at that," he said.

Fussell explained that as the county grows, he thinks it's becoming increasingly important to "protect our agriculture interests and our fine residential communities."

Also, he noted, with the commissioners looking to begin updating the county's strategic plan in the fall, examining land use issues is typically a large part of that process.

However, county Planning Director Randall Tyndall cautioned that it likely will be a while before residents see any real movement on either issue.

"I think what we're looking at is updating our land use plan -- what are the priorities of the county and where do we want them at," he said. "But this is not something that's going to happen over night. It's a long process."

He explained that the push to look at how Duplin County's land is being used is motivated by several factors, including the high number of recently subdivided properties, the likely increase in the number of farmers declaring their lands to be voluntary agriculture districts and the need to protect the space around the airport.

The last time the county examined how its land was being used was in 2002.

Since then, the county Planning Board has only touched on the issue once -- when current county Manager Mike Aldridge served as planning director.

At that point, Aldridge explained, the focus was primarily on the airport and the need to create land use restrictions around it. Already there was a height ordinance in place, but what officials feared was high-density development.

But, he continued, no land use or zoning regulations were ever put in place because of a strong public backlash.

"I think it was a case of bad timing and misinformation," Aldridge said. "The planning board decided that it might be better tackled at another time."

Now that time appears to have arrived.

Earlier this month George Futrelle, Duplin County Airport manager, emphasized the need to control the use of the land around the airport as more and more state and federal dollars come in for projects like runway expansion.

As the planning board begins to look at that issue, Tyndall explained, it's also likely to begin looking at what areas have already been identified as voluntary agriculture districts, as well as how much of the county is already within each of the 10 municipalities' zoning areas.

"Now you've got two great pieces of the puzzle and you superimpose those (maps) over the towns, so that when all is said and done, you really don't have that much acreage of land left over," he said.

And much of what available land is left over is quickly being claimed, he added, whether for industrial development zones or residential developments.

"We've got a lot of good things going on," Tyndall continued. "I think the commissioners are wanting to say, 'Let's get a hold on what's going on and make sure it's in the best interests of the county.'

"Unfortunately, in the public's eye, a lot of people look at zoning as restricting what they can do with their property. That's not the intent. A lot of people look at it from a negative standpoint, but my personal feeling is that it does a whole lot more good."