Land near the intersection of Mills Road and Hudson's Crossroad Road is up for rezoning on May 22, 2019. (Molly Urbina/The Daily Reflector)

A nearly unanimous vote by the Greenville City Council this month to annex nearly 400 acres well outside the city limits raises questions about the rights of rural residents and the city’s direction when it comes to managing growth.

The council voted 5-1 with Rick Smiley in opposition to annex the land at the intersection of Mills Road and Hudson’s Crossroad Road, five miles by car from the city’s nearest contiguous border, more than six miles to the nearest fire-rescue station.

The land is in on a two lane, country road lined by corn and other crops on the way to Hope Middle School. Any Greenville residents who have driven to Hope Middle understand that this spot is difficult to reach quickly, even when traffic is light.

Developers wanted the City Council to create this municipal outpost because the land had been governed by Pitt County zoning rules, which required them to build on larger lots. More compact city zoning will allow them to build a greater number of homes. According to city data, zoning approved in conjunction with the annexation at the Aug. 8 meeting will allow for more than 580 single-family homes. The city reports development will accommodate 1,300 people, an average of about 2.2 residents per house.

That means the developers can make more money, the city can collect more taxes and the growth has the potential to open other opportunities for development and commerce, all of which is in line with the “Open for Business” platform on which the majority of city council members was elected two years ago. It also falls in line with majority’s core principle that government should rarely limit how landowners utilize their property.

The laissez-faire principles clash with the basic rights of life, liberty and property of Pitt County residents who already live in that area because, in part, they like to live in the country, not the city. The decision sits poorly with many people because, by virtue of annexing land so far from the city limits, none of the residents adjacent to property have representation on the City Council, nor can they vote in city elections to express their discontent. From their point of view, the city is colonizing.

Additionally, it raises a number of practical concerns including increased traffic levels on rural roads already crammed with vehicles during school hours; management of stormwater and flooding that occurs now with little existing development; the impact on agricultural interests in the area and the inevitable frustrations caused by cars and farm equipment sharing space; the number of additional students attending schools in the area that already are at or beyond capacity; and the distance that city police, fire-rescue and public works personnel will have to travel to serve the area.

A member of the Pitt County Board of Education, a Pitt County commissioner, a former Pitt County sheriff’s captain and two representatives of the Pitt County Soil and Water District were among more than 75 people who attended the council meeting to detail their concerns and plead with the council to vote down the requests. The number of people present dropped from previous meetings on the matter because many believed the final vote was a foregone conclusion, their opposition an exercise in futility, one of them said in his comments to the council. Indeed, the pleas fell on deaf ears.

Outside of Councilman Smiley’s arguments for compact city development, the council and city staff’s stance frustrated the opposition. It was most palpable during the long discussion when the crowd erupted in laughter after city traffic engineer Rik Dicesare told Smiley that Mills Road had more than adequate capacity to handle the traffic that would be added by 580 new homes. The outburst prompted Mayor P.J. Connelly to politely admonish the group, which otherwise maintained civility.

The council’s vote definitely encourages growth, but many see that growth as sprawl. It will encourage other spot annexations — indeed it builds on an existing trend — which will encourage the development of more strip centers, convenience stores, gas stations and traffic along Mills Road, Ivy Road and Portertown Road, etc., and Charles Boulevard-N.C. 43, which could resemble sections of Greenville Boulevard and Fire Tower Road in 20 years.

Based on the vote that carried the current majority on the City Council to office, that is the kind of growth most residents want. Most of the council — outside of Smiley and Monica Daniels — faces opposition in November. We will see soon enough whether voters will continue to support the council’s direction.

Tell us what you think

The Daily Reflector eliminated commenting on its website last week in part to encourage readers to speak up on matters with letters to the editor on our opinion page. What do you think about the City Council’s vote to annex the Mills Road property? Send 300 words to reflectorletters@reflector.com or submit them at www.reflector.com/submit-your-letter. Please include your name and phone number for verification.