County rejects rezoning request near base
By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 2, 2010 1:46 PM
County policy discouraging development, even in the outer buffer zones surrounding Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, remained intact Tuesday morning after commissioners were unanimous in their rejection of a rezoning request.
But even though the board refused to rezone the land to allow construction of a triplex apartment, the property owner still has earlier permission to build a duplex apartment similar to ones on three adjoining lots he owns.
Commissioners rejected the request by Cecil Bryan following a public hearing earlier that morning during which Neil Jurney and George Carberry spoke against the project.
Bryan's attorney, Tim Haithcock, urged the board to approve the petition to rezone a 22,000-square-foot lot from Residential 30 to Residential 10 to build the triplex apartment.
It is the second time the rezoning had been sought. The first petition did not receive a favorable recommendation from the county Planning Board. The latest revised proposal did.
However, the land lies within the 65-70 decibels day-night average sound level noise zone surrounding the base where residential uses are discouraged, Dennis Goodson, base deputy civil engineer, wrote in a letter to the county.
A second rezoning request for land that falls within the same zone was approved by a 5-2 vote. This one, however, is a compatible use, Goodson wrote.
It was sought by Kevin Wilson to rezone 2.7 acres on Genoa Road from Light Industry to Village to use an existing building for a retail business. An existing residence on the property would be used, too.
Commissioners were concerned that rezoning the Bryan property would contradict county policy to protect areas, even outlying ones, that could adversely affect the base.
They were concerned as well that deviating from that policy would open the floodgates to development and that the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission would perceive it as the county permitting encroachment around the base.
Commissioners at their May 18 meeting had even been hesitant to schedule a hearing on Bryan's request because of those concerns. They finally agreed to the hearing after Commissioner Steve Keen said the public should be allowed to comment.
Haithcock countered that Bryan's plans are actually a good fit with the county's comprehensive land use plan, meeting 10 of the policy's points. The three policy points it would not meet are actually just one -- all dealing with the economic importance of the base, he said.
"We do not quarrel with that," Haithcock said. "We can't fight that. It is a fact. We do not want to do anything to substantially impact the base. We submit that this does not.
"The AICUZ (Air Installation Compatible Use Zone) study says that residential use should be discouraged in this area, but there is already residential development here," he said.
The study requires certain noise dampers in homes, something that Haithcock said Bryan is ready to provide.
"We are not asking you to open the floodgates," he said. "We are not asking you to change the rules, not give any special consideration. What we are asking you to do is to apply the rules and in applying those, exercise the discretion that has been given you by legal authority.
"You have an obligation not just to apply rules, but also to exercise your judgment and discretion."
Haithcock noted that Bryan's original request had been to rezone all four lots. When that failed to receive a positive recommendation from the Planning Board, Bryan reworked the plan and limited it to just one lot, he said.
Haithcock said that streets and community water are already in place and that the project would not conflict with the county's policies, but rather would advance them.
Carberry, who is retired from the Air Force, called the issue a literal threat to "the economic lifeblood" of the county.
He said he was encouraged that most county officials see the danger and have said nothing should be done to alter the policy.
"But the fact that we're even holding this hearing worries me deeply," he said. "Believe me, the Air Force and other communities that would like to inherit our good fortune are surely watching."
It is a case of one housing development versus the stability and livelihood of the entire county, he said.
"We must not and cannot do anything to threaten the base or cast any doubt on our commitment to keeping it here," he said.
Jurney said he sympathizes with landowners, but that commissioners have to do what is best for all of the county.
Commissioners made no comments during or following the two hearings and continued on with their agenda.
But as the board prepared to go into a work session Commissioner John Bell asked for further discussion.
He reminded commissioners that safety had been of paramount importance when the board had created the buffer zone around the base. He also asked county attorney Borden Parker if commissioners had to wait or if they could go ahead and act.
"You do not have to wait," Parker said.
Bell made a motion to deny Bryan's petition.
Before the vote, Commissioner Andy Anderson asked for clarification as to whether Bryan could still build the duplex.
County Planner Connie Price assured him that Bryan could do so.
Keen asked County Manager Lee Smith if the vote would establish precedent.
"I would say yes in my opinion," Smith replied.
Keen also wanted to know if Goodson had been aware that Bryan already had approval to build the duplex and whether such information would have caused his answer to be different.
Price said he did not know.
Commissioner J.D. Evans asked about acting on the second request as well.
After denying Bryan's petition, Anderson voiced concern about Wilson's project.
He asked Price if a special-use permit would achieve the same goal as rezoning.
Price said that the ordinance would have to be amended to allow for that.
Anderson said his concern was that once the rezoning was approved, nothing was in place to prevent Wilson from tearing down the existing building and constructing several new ones, thereby increasing the density on the property.
Price said county ordinances already place limits on that density.
Also, as a Light Industry zone, someone could "come in and put a larger number of employees anyway," he said.
Anderson and Keen voted against Evans' motion to approve the rezoning.