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Rezoning request facing opposition

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Land where the proposed neighborhood will be build off of NC-33 on April 20, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Monday, April 23, 2018

Residents in three housing developments outside Greenville said the Pitt County Board of Commissioners does not have enough information to decide if a neighboring property should be rezoned to allow for a new development.

Individuals living in Holly Ridge, Moss Bend and River Crest subdivisions will ask the Pitt County Board of Commissioners to reject, or at least delay, a rezoning request from Bill Clark Homes.

A public hearing on the rezoning request is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday in the Eugene James Auditorium, Pitt County Office Building, 1717 W. Fifth St.

“There is going to be building there, that’s not the point,” said Lisa Lawless, a resident of Moss Bend subdivision. “We’re talking about good, responsible development on the Tar (River). I don’t think anyone would have a problem if it looked like Holly Ridge or a similar development.”

Bill Clark Homes wants to rezone 67.5 acres of property located on N.C. 33 East, about three miles east of Greenville’s city limits, from rural residential to suburban residential. It’s estimated the development company could build up to 150 homes on lots slightly larger than a quarter-acre. Home lots in the nearby subdivisions range from two to five acres.

Existing residents worry the proposed development will create flooding problems and increase traffic. There also are concerns it could bring annexation into Greenville’s city limits.

The Pitt County Planning Board voted 5-4 last month to recommend denial of the request. The board said it was not consistent with the Pitt County Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The board also said it is not reasonable and not within the public interest.

Planning staff recommended approval, saying the project is consistent with the county land-use plan.

Rural residential and suburban residential zoning are both described as accommodating “low density, single-family residential uses.”

The main difference is suburban residential zoning involves areas served by public sewer while rural residential is served by septic systems. Developments with public sewer don’t need the extra acreage to accommodate a septic system and a future replacement field.

The city of Greenville earlier this year gave Greenville Utilities Commission permission to provide sewer service to the development without requiring immediate annexation. The city reserves the right for future annexation without requiring the consent of future owners, information that will be recorded with the county’s register of deeds.

Phillipi Branch, a tributary of the Tar River, lies between Moss Bend and the property in question, which is owned by Umberto G. Fontana.

Lawless’ backyard borders Phillipi Branch. During Hurricane Matthew water in the stream rose more than 7 feet. 

A development with city streets, 150 homes and 150 paved driveways will create storm runoff that will further flood the stream and Tar River, Lawless said. She believes environmental impact studies and stormwater planning should occur before zoning is granted.

The studies and engineering that Lawless wants occur during the development phase, which comes after zoning, said James Rhodes, Pitt County Planning director.

“There is no way you can do that with a piece of property as it goes through the rezoning process,” Rhodes said.

Planning staff and other experts review planning designs to ensure standards outlined in the county’s ordinances and in stormwater regulations are followed. The state transportation department also examines the development plans to see what highway improvements are needed so there is no negative effect on traffic.

Lawless said she does not think it is possible to prevent a negative effect. N.C. 33 East already is congested with farming equipment, motor scooters, school buses, minivans and tractor-tractors, she said. If each new household has two cars, that’s adding 300 cars to the mix.

“There is not a safe place to put an entrance on that neighborhood if you have a lot of traffic coming out of there,” said Pete Harrell, president of Moss Bend Homeowners Association. There is a blind curb near the property, he said, and it will be problematic.

“If they put a center turn lane in it might make it easier,” he said.

“I’m conscious that Greenville is definitely growing out this way,” said Harrell, who has lived in Moss Bend for 14 years. “But Highway 33 is a very unsafe highway. It needs to be 45 mph (speed limit) at least to Avon Road and it needs to be a no passing zone.”

There also are concerns that rezoning the parcel will create a precedent that will bring more small lot development and possibly multi-family housing development in the area.

Holly Ridge partially encircles two other parcels owned by Fontana that are next to the land in question. A horse barn and track are on the land. Lawless’ neighbors have been told there are no plans to develop the property. However, it’s about the same size as the as the property in question which means another 150 homes could be built.

Sally Finical hopes the county commissioners follow the lead of Greenville’s Planning and Zoning Commission, which decided on Thursday to hold off on the developer’s request to revise a preliminary plat for an area called Paramore Farm Clusters.

Clark wanted a 50-lot development instead of the originally planned 26 lots. Neighboring property owners said  they bought their homes believing the development would be all luxury homes. They  worry smaller homes on smaller lots will lower their property values, a concern expressed by individuals in Moss Bend, Holly Ridge and River Crest. 

“It’s concerning that once you rezone, you are essentially giving free rein,” said Finical, who has lived along Phillipi Branch in Moss Bend for 25 years.

“If down the road Bill Clark decides apartment buildings are needed, there is nothing to stop that decision and there will be no forum for speaking out,” Finical said.

While previous development along N.C. 33 East have produced a hodge-podge of single family homes with driveways directly linking to the highway, middle- and upper-class subdivisions, shopping centers, mobile home parks and businesses, it still maintains a rural character, Finical said. She and the others want commissioners to preserve that rural setting.

“It would be nice if we could keep one part of Pitt County from becoming a concrete jungle,” Finical said. It would be nice to have a place that remains lovely and green, she said.

If Bill Clark Homes would put in fewer homes on larger lots, much of the opposition would end, Harrell said.

“Honestly, we don’t mind the growth in the area,” Finical said. “The growth in Greenville, the growth in eastern North Carolina is exciting and a wonderful thing but we would like it to become a more thoughtful process. I think slowing down the process would not be a bad idea at all.”

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