01/05/12 — Best: Zoning variance concern

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Best: Zoning variance concern

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 5, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County, particularly its Planning Board, needs to be wary about "pecking away" at zoning designed to protect the air space in the areas surrounding Seymour Johnson Air Force, the county's second-largest economic engine, Commissioner Jack Best warned his fellow commissioners Tuesday.

Best went as far as to say that the Planning Board does not appear to care about protecting air space, only to later say that it was the wrong choice of words.

Best's comments were sparked by a Planning Board recommendation that commissioners meet as the Board of Equalization and Review for a public hearing on a variance request.

The lot in question is about five miles from the eastern end of the runway at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The board approved Commissioner Steve Keen's motion to hold that hearing at its Feb. 7 meeting

Leslie Jackson has petitioned the county for a lot size variance at 102 Sam's Lane, LaGrange.

Jackson wants to place a single-wide manufactured home on the property that is within the Airport Zone District. A mobile home had been on the lot previously, but was removed just over a year ago.

The Airport Zone District requires a minimum lot size of one acre. Jackson's lot is about one-fourth of an acre. The proposed variance would allow the manufactured home to be placed on the property.

The lot was in existence prior to zoning being established in the area and became non-conforming because of adoption of airport zoning in the area.

In a letter to the county, Dennis G. Goodson, deputy base civil engineer, wrote, "Based on the special conditions and circumstances outlined in the zoning ordinance, we have no objections concerning this variance request."

But that failed to mollify Best.

"Pecking away at it little by little, eventually it will not just be here, but other places," Best said. "You can dilute what you have tried to accomplish.

"The military is not the only thing in the county to be sure, but we need to protect air space. I don't understand why the Planning Board is not protecting their air space as much as we are trying to protect the air space. Why are they not seeing the vulnerability of diluting the air space?"

The difference is that the lot in question isn't new or being used for the first time, County Planner Connie Price said.

That does not make it right, Best countered.

"They should be protecting the air zone," Best said. "That is what we have the Planning Board for -- to protect that air zone."

Price agreed.

"But, the Planning Board is also there to help individual property owners to make use of their property," he said.

That creates a conflict, Best said.

"Yes," Price replied.

In response to questioning by Best, Price said the mobile home that had been on the lot had been removed about a year ago.

"If he had come back within six months, he would have been OK," Price said. "The Airport Zone allows manufactured housing. The one they put there would have to meet the noise reduction requirements.

"They would have to have brick underpinning. They would have to have certain kinds of windows. It has to be a specially designed mobile home to go on that property."

Commissioner J.D. Evans asked whether the owner was aware of those stipulations.

Price said that he was.

Best noted that the Airport Zone regulations set a minimum lot size of one acre, but that the lot in question is less than a quarter acre.

"But they can meet the setback requirements," Price said. "If they were putting a larger home on the property they could not even meet the setback requirements."

"So this piece of property was OK, everything was fine, it is just that he waited longer than a year?" said Keen, a former Planning Board member.

That is correct, Price said.

"If that is the case then, and what Mr. Best is saying that about the Planning Board not caring..." Keen started.

Best said he should have not have used the words "not caring."

"There is some confusion here," Keen continued. "That is a good part of having the community part (of a proposed) survey. If they know that they are in these areas and that it is going to be thin ice when they get ready to do whatever in the years to come. My thinking here is that there has just been some lag time on the property owner who is just gotten caught up in the government, or the county's rules and regulations.

"That is why we are here today. I don't think it has anything to do with whether the Planning Board doesn't care whether it is zoned. They are in compliance other than just the year. The setbacks are there."

Jackson owned the property prior to the area being zoned, Price said.

If the property had never been used and had just been purchased by someone Price said he would recommend letting the property stay as is.

Evans said he had no problems with what was being discussed, but that Best had valid concerns.

"If we keep pecking at it we won't have anything after awhile," Evans said. "But that is the nature of things. They change over time.

"You have two different things fighting against one another, but in this respect the only thing that is limiting you is the amount of land."

Price said that when people come into his office to talk about rezoning that he tells them they can proceed. However, he said, he also tells people about commissioners' concerns about what happens in Airport Zone areas and "about planes falling down on people" and that commissioners are going to limit density near the Air Force base whenever possible.