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Commissioners delay action of N.C. 33 East rezoning request

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James Rhoades mediates a meeting between Holly Hoag and Landon Weaver after citizens protest the rezoning request of land on Hwy 33 during a Board of Commissioners meeting at the county office building Monday night.

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Pitt County commissioners voted 5-3 Monday to delay action on a rezoning request despite more than a 100 people turning out to oppose the request.

Commissioner Jimmy Garris proposed the delay, saying it would give representatives with Bill Clark Homes, which is seeking the rezoning, an opportunity for further discussions with the project’s opponents in an effort to reach a compromise.

“I have great faith in or county and our people,” Garris said, adding later, “People don’t destroy my faith in human beings because I believe people want to get together and work it out.”

Audience members were unhappy.

“If we came to some sort of compromise there will be no way to enforce it,” said Holly Hoag, one of the project’s opponents. 

The Pitt County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing Monday on Bill Clark Homes’ request to rezone, 67.5 acres of property along N.C. 33 East just east of its intersection with Tucker Road.

The veteran Greenville developer wants to build a subdivision of up to 150 acres on lots slightly larger than a quarter-acre. The developer needs the commissioners to change the property’s zoning from rural residential to suburban residential which allows for the smaller lots.

To get the suburban residential zoning, the development needs to serviced by a public sewer system. The city of Greenville said it will let Greenville Utilities Commission service the development with agreement that the property will be annexed in the future. Typically the city doesn’t allow sewer service unless the property has already been annexed.

People living in Moss Bend, Holly Ridge and Beech Cove developments, which surround the property, oppose the request. They said the additional housing will add too much traffic to an already crowded road, create environmental problems and drive down their property values.

Hoag started the opposition’s presentation by asking opponents to stand. About 90 people in the commissioners’ second floor auditorium stood. Another 30 people who were diverted to another location because the auditorium was full also oppose the project.

“We are not opposed to development, we know it is coming our way,” said Hoag, who lives in Holly Ridge. “There are just a lot of unknowns about this project.”

If the suburban residential zoning is granted, nothing could stop Bill Clark Homes from putting in put in multi-family or townhouse structures, she said.

Hoag said representatives from Eastern Pines Fire-Rescue have said the department already is stretched to provide fire service to existing neighborhoods. The schools that serve the area are also at maximum capacity.

Kristie Stilton, a Beech Cove resident, discussed traffic problems.

A curve just east of Beech Cove’s main entrance, near the proposed development, “has been known to be the most dangerous place when traveling N.C. 33.” The curve dips, creating a very limited line of site that means people pull onto the highway only to find a car traveling 60 mph nearly crashing into their rear

Stilton said a report shows there has been 26 accidents in and near the curve, 14 involving cars going off the road and crashing into a culvert.

Residents who have contacted area transportation officials have been given different timetables for widening N.C. 33, Hoag said, but it appears it will be another 10, 15 years before it happens.

Stilton said dense development should not occur until the road can handle it.

Scott Pritchard said there is discussion about creating a center turn lane to help traffic make left turns into the development.

“If we add a center turn lane and stack cars in it we are going to create a more dangerous situation,” Pritchard said.

“My granddaughter and I have been hit, rear-ended when trying to make a left into my driveway,” said Sandra Hardee, who lives directly on N.C. 33 East.

Hardee read a letter from her daughter, Kristen Gonzalez, who was unable to attend the meeting.

Gonzalez wrote that part of the property is in a special flood hazard area, more commonly called the floodplain. Similar developments have increased the size of floodplains in other parts of the county, she wrote, and it’s unclear if that could happen with the proposed development. That could increase flooding problems for neighbors and increase homeowner insurance rates, she wrote.

“You know in your mind and your hearts (the speakers) are right,” said Moss Bend resident Lisa Lawless. Approving the development, under the current circumstances, would rob the commissioners on their authority “to truly develop a long-term plan for the county.”

Dr. Paul Cunningham, retired dean of Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, said he is concerned about the development’s effect on property values.

There are other developments in Pitt County that are a mix of larger $500,000 to $900,000 homes and smaller sized housing and property values haven’t deteriorated, said Landon Weaver, land development manager with Bill Clark Homes. The homes in this development will range between $250,000 to $400,000.

“We’re building homes that are not small or cheap,” he said.

“There’s been a large lobbying effort against the project,” Weaver said. “There’s been a lot of misinformation.”

Weaver said the rezoning fits the county’s comprehensive land-use plan. Bill Clark Homes recognizes there are environmentally sensitive areas that will be protected with buffers. Buffers will be built along other parts of the property line.

“We have heard these concerns. We want to help out,” Weaver said.

He said despite the community’s worries, traffic counts indicate N.C. 33 has plenty of capacity.

He said the road was designed to accommodate 12,000 trips daily and N.C. Department of Transportation records show there are only 7,300 trips daily.

The houses also will produce the tax income that will pay for expanded services, he said. Dan Cumbo, with the transportation engineering company Davenport echoed Weaver’s assessment.

Commissioner Charles Farley made a motion to deny the rezoning request. Commissioners Melvin McLawhorn and Tom Coulson supported the motion.

“I know you can say (the road) is not at maximum capacity, but when you look at the number of accidents in that curb, I would say it’s a problem,” Coulson said.

Garris then made the substitute motion, which under the board’s procedures was voted on first.

Commissioner Beth Ward supported delaying the vote. “We have done this in the past and it has served us well.”

Commissioner Glen Webb said if the county denied the rezoning request, the developer could ask the city for an immediate satellite annexation and then the development would be governed by city rules.

“If a development is going to go in, you are safer to be under us,” Webb said.

In the end, Garris, Webb, Ward and Commissioners Ann Floyd Huggins and Mark Owens Jr. voted to delay the board’s decision; Farley, Coulson and McLawhorn voted no.

Commissioner Mary Perkins-Williams, citing a dispute she has had with Bill Clark, recused herself from voting.

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