A proposal that will open an athletic complex at John Paul II Catholic High School for use by outside organizations drew strong opposition from neighbors this week, while the facility's owner said the new rule will benefit the larger community.
The Greenville Planning and Zoning Commission at its Tuesday meeting delayed action on the issue and several others until 6 p.m. Thursday. The delay is to allow for additional written comments under a state law that permits governing bodies to hold remote meetings because of COVID-19.
The athletic complex, located on East 14th Street, was built on former farmland bordered by several large, established residential developments. A special-use permit was granted by the city in February 2017 to allow its construction and operation. The conditions included limiting use to the high school and St. Peter’s Catholic School. Other conditions placed limits on lighting and amplified noise.
Technical problems with the lighting and amplifier system later generated nuisance complaints. While Rich Balot, the property’s owner and developer, fixed the problems, complaints continued. “Everybody wasn’t really happy with the way it was working,” city planner Brad Sceviour said Tuesday.
In December, Balot sought to rezone the property to eliminate the need for a special-use permit. Neighbors opposed the request, and Balot asked to delay the action in order to pursue an amendment to city code that would create rules for how small private schools can operate athletic complexes.
Sceviour said proposed text amendment places limits on the use of amplified sound and defined the measurement of light on neighboring property. The facility also has to be an accessory use to a school, so it can’t be operated as a commercial recreational facility, Sceviour said.
“I believe at this point we are providing something, in conjunction with the city, that is over and above the protections they have now. I think folks are going to be opposed to it, frankly, one way or another,” said Amanda Bambrick, Balot’s attorney.
“We respectfully ask the board to remember the goal here. There is no profiteering scam by Rich or anybody at the Caltholic school to make a profit off it,” she said. "We feel like we have a community asset … that’s a real benefit for the city.”
The youth tackle football league Pitt Lightning and other youth sports groups support the plan, she said.
Balot said he built the athletic complex as a charity project and his goal was to open a facility for the community, including allowing the neighboring homeowners association to use the high school cafeteria for meetings.
Balot and Bambrick said they could have produced a multitude of supporters for the project but didn’t want to take up the board’s time since it had other items on the agenda.
“If it is truly about the children and the need for more practice fields … Mr. Balot, you are a very generous man to JP2 and many other community projects in Greenville. Would you consider working with the city and building some simple, inexpensive practice fields on city owned land to benefit those children,” Planters Walk resident Donna Jacobs said. “That would be the good neighbor thing to do that would benefit the community at large.”
Jacobs said while Balot talks about allowing youth sports teams to use the facility, the text amendment's language appears to allow for any type of third party rental.
The proposed text amendment states that amplified sound can be used from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday; 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; and 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday.
“It’s pretty intolerable and not welcomed by the neighbors,” Julie Yonts said. The hours of operation total to 87.5 hours. A week consists of 168 hours, she said.
“For more than half the hours of the week … a time equivalent to almost four, 24-hour days, this athletic complex could be in use with the associated noise and light,” Yonts said. “Those hours are more than most of us work in a week.”
Attorney Christopher Edwards, representing the Planters Walk Homeowners Association, said while the text amendment will apply to all small private schools and not just John Paul II Catholic High School, the issue isn’t about other schools.
“Let’s be honest, this text amendment was prepared by JP2 in concert with the city to address their particular situation was their athletic complex,” Edwards said. “This is a complex that is likely to be the envy of many small colleges. While that may be great for JP2 it’s anything but great for Planters Walk.”
Joni Torres, who has lived in Planters Walk for 26 years, said the complex’s developer agreed to the limitations of the special-use permit, including no third party users, and should honor the agreement.
Under the current rules the complex would mainly be used during the school year, Torres said. Adoption of the text amendment would permit year-round usage.
The other opposition speakers talked about how nighttime amplified sound would disturb the sleep patterns of shift workers and children.
Thomas Huener showed a photograph of the athletic complex’s lighting and the glare that filled his property. Another property owner said the measurements proposed in the text amendment do not accurately reflect how light interferes with people using their backyards.
Dave Caldwell said he does not see how the complex could be viewed as a community asset when it’s surrounded by fencing and “no trespassing” signs are posted along the fencing.
After 30 minutes, planning commission chairman Les Robinson ended the comments of opposition speakers, saying that is what the city’s rules require. He urged the individuals who couldn’t speak along with others to submit written comments which the board would review before Thursday’s meeting.
Another text amendment discussed by the commission is a request to amend the city code to create a new recreational/sport hunting overlay on approximately 158 acres along the northern banks of the Tar River in a location identified as the Sunny Side area. The overlay is described as an area “designed to provide sportsmen with an area in which hunting and the discharge of firearms by properly licensed individuals during established hunting seasons is allowed.”
The text amendment language said a person can only use a rifle on the property if its handler is at least 8 feet above ground. It also can’t be fired in areas that abut residences. Property that is suitable for development also won’t qualify for the overlay.
While the text amendment doesn’t address bow or crossbow usage, later changes will allow bow hunting and allow children to hunt if they are accompanied by an adult, Sceviour said.
The property is currently owned by Greenville Utilities Commission, which is considering selling it to a private individual.
Commission member Max Ray Joyner III asked why the city is recommending the change. Sceviour said there was a citizen request and since it is not near developed property and has no future development potential staff felt it could be an appropriate option for the location.
No one spoke for or against the proposal.
Other public hearings included:
East Carolina University request to rezone more than 19 acres bounded by Coastal Seaboard Railroad and West 10th, South Washington, West 12th and West 13th streets from unoffensive industry, to residential (high density multi-family), and downtown commercial fringe to mixed-use institutional. Joyner asked to be recused from the discussion and action on the issue. His father owns property near the site.
A rezoning request from Three Twenty Enterprises. The developer wants to annex property into the Greenville city limits so it can receive sewer service. The company wanted nearly 3.3 acres zoned for general business and 5 acres zoned to office-residential (high density multi-family).
Request to approve a preliminary subdivision plat Rocky Russell Development submitted for a 19-acre development being proposed for Frog Level Road, adjacent to Taberna Subdivision.
An amendment to the city code that would add a multi-family option to the medical-general commercial and medical-heavy commercial zoning districts.
Three items were continued until June:
Happy Trail Farms wants to rezone 33.8 acres at Herman Garris and Portertown roads from residential-agricultural to residential-single family medium density. Neighbors are concerned the development could worsen flooding. There also are concerns that the denser development could reduce surrounding property values.
Amy A. Edwards wants to rezone the property on Portertown Road between Eastern Pines Road and Norfolk Southern Railroad, with 5 acres going from residential-agricultural to general commercial and nearly 9.2 acres to high-density residential.
Langston Farm requested an amendment to the city’s future land-use and character map so nearly 1.9 acres located at the northeastern corner of the intersection of South Memorial Drive and Regency Boulevard can be changed from office/institutional to commercial.
The state law that allows bodies to meet electronically says that people have up to 24 hours after a public hearing to submit written. That deadline ends at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The planning board will reconvene at 6 p.m. Thursday. Robinson said commission members will then discuss the items and vote.
Individuals who want to submit written comments have until 6 p.m. Wednesday. People should email their comments along with their name and address and the topic to PublicInput@greenvillenc.gov. Messages must be labeled “public hearing” in the subject line.