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home : opinion : e-opinion December 13, 2019

11/7/2019 7:22:00 AM
"Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't"
County Commissioners' decision-making process not that simple
Commissioner Richard Permenter
Commissioner Richard Permenter

Greg Smith, president of the East Lincoln Betterment Association, spoke during the Public Comments portion of the meeting:

As stakeholders in the process, the homeowners of Covington, East Wind Cove, Lakewood, Norman Pointe, Sailview, Webbs Chapel Cove and Westport offer the following feedback for guidance in light of actual decisions made by Commissioners:

  • In locations with clear groups/areas of residential homes already being present,
  • All residentially zone property should have some level of priority to be maintained residentially zoned over requests to convert it to commercial zoning.
  • Any splitting of property between residential and commercial should be priortized by the residential allocation to insure maximum buffer separation between residential and commercial areas.
  • From the residents' perspective, any new requests to convert residential to commercial, it is the responsibility of those making the requests to justify why the change benefits the community.
  • From the residents' perspective, it is the responsibility of Conty Commissioners, the Planning Board and County staff to visibly and actively protect the interest of residents.

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

Before their regular joint meeting Monday (Nov. 3rd) Lincoln County Commissioners and the County Planning Board held a joint training session with County Attorney Wesley Deaton.

The purpose of the joint work session was to make sure the Commissioners and members of the Planning Board fully understood the differences between what have been called 'quasi-judicial' and 'legislative' requests related to changes in zoning, conditional use permits, etc.

During the regular joint session that evening, they got a chance to put their 'education' to work. The result was a contentious public hearing on one of the three quasi-judicial requests among the six that were on the agenda.

Circle K Stores wants to put a gas station/convenience store with an automatic car wash on the northeast corner of NC16-business and Unity Church Road.

The requirements for speakers on quasi-judicial matters, according to Deaton, who outlined the particulars for the public at the evening meeting before any of the public hearings began, is that what they are giving is 'testimony'--just like in court--and that (1) their testimony can only be to show how the requested change can directly affect them, their home or business, and (2) to speak, they must have 'standing' on the issue--by living, operating a business, or owning nearby property.

Several people who wanted to speak were told they had no such 'standing.' After they were told by Commission Chairman Carrol Mitchem to 'sit down,' others who had signed up to speak passed on the opportunity--apparently because they also lacked 'standing.' The owners of the property on the southeast corner of the intersection, where another convenience store currently operates, were also told they couldn't give testimony related to concerns such as traffic unless they could produce evidence to support their objections.

Later, during the Public Comments portion of the Commissioners meeting, one of those who had been told she couldn't speak because she did not live, own property or operate a business close to the proposed store, used the Public Comments period to voice some of her concerns--‌including that another convenience store would diminish business for the existing one.

Another Public Comments speaker also used that period to offer comments that wouldn't have been allowed during the public hearing. He said, "there are already plenty of convenience stores and gas stations on Business 16--we don't need another."

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Commission Chairman Mitchem ended the Public Comments period with a statement of his own, saying you can't keep someone else from opening a business because the competition will be bad for yours.

Greg Smith, president of the East Lincoln Betterment Association, also spoke during the Public Comments. Smith said seven homeowners associations in the East Lincoln area had agreed that they were concerned with Commissioners allowing changes to the zoning and otherwise permitting development that the associations see as unneeded and unwanted.

Commissioner Rich Permenter interrupted Smith to say that he lives in one of the neighborhoods for whom Smith said he was speaking "and I was never contacted." Smith replied that the agreement with his objection had come from the presidents of the various homeowners groups.

Actually, Permenter and Smith are in agreement about the development in the East Lincoln area and along Highway 16 Business. Permenter even introduced a proposed moratorium on development last year--but it never happened as originally proposed, largely because--while residents of the area may disagree--the laws make it difficult for Commissioners to say "no" to development.

Those who want zoning changes or a conditional use permit where required have to meet certain criteria. When the matters come to public hearings, in quasi-judicial cases, only testimony related to those criteria and only if supported by evidence supporting the objection, can be heard.

In legislative cases, objections such as "we just don't want it!" can be stated.

Public opinion has no sway on decisions in quasi-judicial proceedings.

One might ask (and many have, including Permenter and other Commissioners): "so what good is zoning if you can't enforce it?"

Commissioners have to be very careful in their deliberations. Recently, an appeals court overturned a decision involving a proposed solar farm near Sailview. Property owners who disagree with Commissioners' decisions regarding their property can appeal the matter to the courts--and it's entirely possible that if the refusal to allow the development they wanted costs them money, they may sue the County and the Commissioners individually for damages.

One of the legislative public hearings at Monday night's meeting also drew objections. Ted Birmingham had requested rezoning of a one-acre lot on the east side of N. Pilot Knob Road about 300 feet south of Hagers Ferry Road to permit retail sales (a showroom for interior decorating) and a contractor’s office. The property adjoins residences on that side of Pilot Knob Road; there are businesses on the other side.  Two people who own nearby property (one adjoining) spoke against the proposal. One other neaby resident spoke in favor.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, November 8, 2019
Article comment by: Cheryl Burgess

Why would Circle K not consider having a location at the intersection of new Hwy 16 and Hwy 150? There are NO gas stations or convenience stores at that intersection. NOTHING! They would be better suited and more profitable there.

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