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Commissioners approve Bill Clark rezoning, neighbors planning appeal

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Landon Weaver of Bill Clark Homes speaks during a county commissioners meeting, Monday morning.

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Monday, May 7, 2018

Homeowners plan to appeal a rezoning decision they said will create more traffic safety problems along N.C. 33 East and more stormwater runoff in their neighborhoods.

The homeowners are appealing Monday’s 5-2 vote by the Pitt County Board of Commissioners to rezone 67.5 acres of property on N.C. 33 East, east of Tucker Road, to suburban residential. Bill Clark Homes requested the change because the developer wants to build a 150-lot subdivision and needs smaller lots than allowed under the previous rural residential zone.

“The meeting today was an embarrassment to the people of Pitt County,” said Lisa Lawless, who represented residents of Moss Bend at Monday’s meeting. “There were so many procedural flaws in this entire process. Therefore counsel has been hired and they will guide us homeowners through this appeal process.”

The homeowners believe the commissioners should have waited until May 21 to vote on the request because Commissioner Melvin McLawhorn was absent and he was representing the county at a conference.

It was unfair, Lawless said, because last month McLawhorn supported an unsuccessful attempt to deny the rezoning request.

Lawless was one of 40 residents of Moss Bend, Holly Ridge and Beech Cove subdivisions opposing the rezoning request. They wanted the commissioners to wait so more of their neighbors could attend the May 21 meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

The delay would give homeowners more time to work with Bill Clark Homes, Lawless said.

“We were told this is a 10-year project; waiting two weeks shouldn’t matter,” Lawless said.

“We have night meetings for contentious issues. I think this qualified as a contentious issue,” Commissioner Tom Coulson said.

Commissioner Jimmy Garris, who made the motion to proceed with the vote, said the board had all the information it needed and there was no reason to delay.

“The reason to delay it before was to get the groups together to work out a compromise.” Garris said. “It’s obvious to me that there was not a compromise, there was not an agreement. That disappoints me but at least you tried. I think it’s time for us to more forward.”

Garris, along with Commissioners Ann Huggins, Glen Webb, Mark Owens and Beth Ward, voted to approve the rezoning. Coulson and Commissioner Charles Farley voted against it. Commissioner Mary Perkins-Williams also initially voted against the motion, but later withdrew, citing a need to abstain because of what she called a dispute she has with Bill Clark. When asked what the dispute is about, she refused to say.

Prior to the vote, nearly 10 people spoke in opposition to the request. Their concerns centered around lot size — the rezoning allows for 12,500-square-foot lots instead of the half-hour and larger lots located in the neighboring developments; increased traffic and accompanying problems; environmental concerns related to stormwater runoff and effects on the Tar River and the look of the development.

State transportation officials said current road usage, a recorded 7,500 trips daily, fall within the road’s safe capacity. A homeowner calculated that the traffic generated by this development and a subdivision currently under construction outside Grimesland would push the road to its safety limits.

The county’s 2030 Comprehensive Land Use Plan says suburban residential development is suitable for the area.

Beech Cove resident Kristie Stilton said the same document said planning is needed to ensure “adequate transportation options are provided to serve existing, developing and proposed activity” and to protect transportation corridors from premature development.

Landon Weaver, land development manager with Bill Clark Homes, said during a May 2 meeting with homeowners the company put forward commitments to limit effects on nearby neighbors. The commitments included retaining riparian buffers along the Tar River and Philippi Branch, which is required under development rules, and berms around the remaining property, which is not required.

The company also committed to building only single-family homes in the area of this rezoning, designing roads to state standards, building sidewalks and not exceeding 150 homes, all actions that are not required under county rules.

Other recommendations involving lot size, complying with stormwater and environmental rules and consulting the transportation department about the development’s entrance design are required under county development rules.

“We will do everything we can to move forward in a positive matter,” Weaver said.

Stilton reminded commissioners they have no way of enforcing the promises once rezoning is approved.

Holly Ridge resident Donna Pritchard said the development could have fewer homes on larger lots and still secure sewer service from the Greenville Utilities Commission, which is currently proposed. It was suggested it could be a development of 75 homes, half on half-acre lots.

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