05/22/09 — Planning board, lot questions raised

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Planning board, lot questions raised

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 22, 2009 1:46 PM

It is time to re-examine the 40-some-year-old guidelines that govern the county Planning Board -- including whether a commissioner should be allowed to serve, county Commission Chairman Bud Gray said.

It is, he said, an issue that "we have got to look into. I think it is a problem that needs to be looked at."

Meanwhile, rezoning requests, including one by Commissioner Steve Keen, might not be acted on until the county can establish ordinances governing parking lot and sign standards, Gray said.

Keen is a member of the Planning Board.

Gray said he supports looking at possibly revising the Planning Board regulations.

"I don't know if the commissioners would do it," he said. "We would probably appoint a committee to do it, and I think one thing we would look at is having a commissioner serve on the Planning Board."

Gray said it is his understanding that Johnston County does not allow commissioners to sit on the Planning Board.

County attorney Borden Parker has said it is permissible for Keen to serve on both boards.

"But if it was me, I wouldn't sit on both boards," Gray said. "When I was elected (commissioner) I was the chief at New Hope Fire Department. When my year was up, I stepped down. I wouldn't sit on both (county) boards. There is no way to control that unless we change the Planning Board rules."

Keen was approached Thursday morning prior to the start of the Rural Planning Organization meeting for comment. He was told about this story and was asked to contact the newspaper later in the day to give him an opportunity to respond.

He did not offer any response other than to ask why other commissioners were not questioned about their board memberships.

Keen has asked the county to rezone 70 acres of property he owns on the south side of U.S. 70 West about 1,000 feet east of N.C. 581.

The property is currently zoned residential-20. Keen has petitioned to have the front 50 acres rezoned commercial shopping and the rear 20 acres to residential-15.

The RA-15 would allow smaller 15,000-square-foot lots for a cluster housing project he wants to build.

During this month's Planning Board session, county Planning Director Connie Price recommended the rear 20 acres be rezoned, but not the front 50. He cited the county's lack of sign and parking lot standards and appearance concerns.

Keen and Planning Board Chairman Chris Cox, who is marketing the property for Keen, recused themselves at the meeting. The Planning Board voted 3-1 to recommend rezoning both parcels, despite Price's recommendation.

When commissioners met this past Tuesday, they scheduled a public hearing for June 16 on Keen's request as well as one from Jim Daniels of Daniels Development. Daniels has asked that roughly 17 acres on N.C. 111 near Ditch Bank Road be rezoned commercial shopping. He said he plans to build an office and equipment yard. Keen recused himself during the discussion.

In setting the hearing, commissioners noted that a public hearing on the sign standards would be held June 2. A public hearing on the parking lot standards was held last fall. Commissioners did not act on the ordinance and sent it back to the Planning Board. Parker is researching to determine if another hearing would be required before commissioners could act on the issue.

Gray said he had "no problem" with Cox handling the project for Keen as along as they abided by the rules and it was approved by Price.

"We want it done right," Gray said. "I think when Connie can get it (project) to where he approves it, then the board will approve it (zoning)."

Even after the hearings are held, Grady said he does not think the rezoning will receive approval until those issues of signs and parking are resolved.

Gray said he has "no problem" with the project.

"I don't think anyone has a problem with the back part," he said. "I think the board fully supports Connie's decision not to approve it until the parking lot and sign issues are resolved. All I have heard is support for Connie's decision.

"We have to be very careful as commissioners that everything be done right. We don't want to treat anyone any differently, but it is as much for (Keen's) benefit as it is anybody's to do this by the book and probably go a little further because he is on the Planning Board and is a commissioner. All of the 't's' have to be crossed and the 'i's' dotted."

"What I was concerned about and what I pointed out at the commissioners' meeting is that because of the size being 50 acres and commercial and (U.S. 70) being a gateway into Goldsboro, I felt it was important to have good sign standards and good parking lot standards, and we don't have those now," Price said.

"(Keen) makes a commitment and says he will do that, but like any project or any rezoning, you don't know what the future will hold. You can only deal with the person who owns it now, and if he were to sell the property to someone else, then that is something the ordinance would cover the new buyer also.

"The problem is if we put requirements on him now saying we want you to do all these things, if within a year we change our requirements for everybody else then he has got the first set, and he is only held to that level. Then everybody is held to a higher standard. We couldn't come back and change the level on him."

Like Gray, Price said he has "no problem" with the project if the standards are in place.

"I think it's a good place for that project, that kind of project," he said. "Look at our comprehensive plan. We have got that whole area designated as urban transition. We think that over the course of the next five to 10 to 20 years that's going to become more urban than it is now."

During the commissioners' meeting, Price was questioned by Keen and Commissioner Sandra McCullen about the differences between the two rezoning requests.

It was, Price said Thursday, because of the scope of the Daniels project, 17 acres compared to 70, and because it involved one property owner for one use instead of potential multiple property owners.

"Mr. Keen, as property owner, I don't see him owning the property forever," Price said. "I think he is going to sell off lots to whomever, then they will build their own buildings and their own parking lots, put their own signs on. Mr. Daniels is going to build his own building and he is going put his own sign up so we can deal with him directly.

"U.S. 70 is a road where we have people traveling through the county and has a lot higher traffic count. You have 30,000 to 40,000 vehicles. N.C. 111 is more for local traffic. I don't know what the traffic count but know it is a whole lot less than U.S. 70."