Arabia residents win rezoning denial after overflowing county commission meeting

By Catharin Shepard • Editor • Arabia residents who overflowed the county commissioners’ room Monday night burst into cheers and applause as a majority of board members pledged to vote against a rezoning request that would have cleared the way for a developer to build 352 homes on the former Upland Trace golf course.

Instead of changing the zoning to Residential 8 (R-8), which would have allowed for lots of a minimum 8,000 square feet, the zoning for the 146-acre property remained set as Residential Agriculture 20 (RA-20), which allows for lots of a minimum 20,000 square feet. Upland Partners submitted the rezoning request, working with property owner Harold Kidd.

With the RA-20 zoning, the developer could instead build up to 290 homes on the property, according to one estimate presented at the meeting; although a different estimate suggested it would be closer to 170 homes, and it wasn’t immediately clear which number was accurate.

Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of a motion to deny the rezoning request.

The vote came after about half a dozen speakers, led by Arabia resident and former Hoke County District Attorney Kristy Newton, urged commissioners to deny the rezoning. Many of the same residents attended a county planning board meeting last month, where four out of six planning board members present voted to recommend denial.

After that meeting, the neighbors met to organize their thoughts and prepare to address commissioners about the matter, Newton said.

“I am an Arabia girl through and through, I am a Hoke County girl through and through. I will tell you, before we went to the planning board, we were not organized. We came as a group of neighbors with a common purpose. But we are organized tonight,” she said.

The group chose people from Arabia to present their message to commissioners as part of an effort to stop the rezoning. 

Newton herself spoke to concerns about the R-8 zoning being at odds with the county’s own land use plan. The county included the property in its urban services area during a revamp of its plan in 2005.

At that time, the county was looking to develop the former Z.V. Pate property into an industrial park, with an ethanol plant intended as the first business to locate there. As of 18 years later, the ethanol plant is closed and no other companies have moved to the industrial park. 

The area isn’t urban, it’s rural, and the county’s land use plan supports protection of agricultural land and uses, Newton said.

“In that document it says all, all requested agricultural and forestry should be protected from urban encroachment to the extent feasible. That’s from your land use document. It says, quote, rural lifestyles favor owner-occupied over renter-occupied housing. And if you look at your studies, it will show you that the Stonewall precinct is overwhelmingly owner-occupied housing,” she said. “The only precinct that has more is Allendale. We are a rural community. I don’t care what label you put on us, that’s the reality.

“If you drive into our community and you look at our community, we are not a massive subdivision community. We are horses, we are livestock, we are neighbors, we are space to spread your arms. That is the kind of community that we have.”

The former district attorney also brought up concerns that the additional development would increase crime in that part of the county.

“I tell you, this will change our community. After 28 years of service in the district attorney’s office, I know what growth brings. It brings crime, and many of these subdivisions are riddled with it,” Newton said. “Go ask the folks in Rockfish how upset they were when their cars kept getting broken into every single night, because I can tell you how upset they were, because they didn’t know their neighbors. They lost their community to this kind of development. We don’t want to lose ours to this kind of development.”

The residents of Arabia are aware that the former golf course will likely become a housing development, but were against the higher number of homes placed on smaller lots that the R-8 zoning would have allowed, Newton said in her comments.

“We do not begrudge Mr. Kidd the right to utilize his property. We do however ask you to consider not affecting us in a negative way, not allowing this to our detriment, because Mr. Kidd, nor anyone else, has a right to use their property in such a way as to negatively impact their neighbors,” she said. 

Arabia residents also spoke to concerns over destruction of natural habitat for native wildlife, including some that one resident said are on the threatened species list, and called for a full environmental study of the area. Increased traffic was also a worry for residents.

Patricia Jackson of the Arabia community, who worked for Hoke County Schools during a career of 30 years here, drew attention to what the R-8 development would mean for the school district and the children who attend local schools. It would require an already stressed transportation system to buy several more buses to handle the additional students such a large development would likely bring to the county. It could also add hundreds of children to the school district at a time when Hoke County, like many school systems, is short on teachers.

Three people spoke in support of the rezoning request. Kidd, business associate Joe Gillis and Jimmy Kizer of engineering firm Moorman, Kizer and Reitzel Inc. all addressed the board on behalf of the project. 

Kidd, who lives in Fayetteville, asked the commissioners to approve the rezoning. As part of the project, the developer had planned to invest about $1.3 million to make needed sewer system improvements.

“The land meets all the requirements that I know of for an R-8, and I believe it initially the planning staff recommended approval. Naturally we went before the planning board, and it was denied. But I wanted to point out that in order to be in that area, in that urban service area, it’s required to have sewer. Sewer is available. The plant is probably 1,500 feet (from the county’s wastewater treatment plant),” Kidd said. “Naturally a lift station would have to be put in. I have met with the utilities department and the utilities director, and a couple of commissioners were at that meeting. I indicated to them what we are wanting to do and planning to do. To put in a lift station and to pump the sewage to that plant from that site will run in the neighborhood of $1.3 million. We were willing to do that, and everything would have to be done by requirements of the utilities commission as well as what the county indicates that they need.”

The developer then planned to turn the lift station over to the county, Kidd said. But in order to make the plan feasible, “We need the R-8 zoning,” he said. 

Gillis said that the developer wanted to build a quality neighborhood, and that R-8 zoning would mean ultimately using less land overall for housing development.

Kizer put forward a compromise. The civil engineer explained that due to the property falling in the county’s urban services area, the developer is required by county ordinance to hook the houses on to county-operated water and sewer services. 

Kizer called it a “catch-22.” He suggested that the county consider allowing the developer to build homes on the property using septic tanks instead, which would not currently be allowed without an approved waiver, regardless of how the property is zoned, due to its inclusion in the urban services area.

If the board were to consider such a proposal, it would have to be in a future meeting after commissioners voted on the item already on the agenda, the board clarified for an audience member.

After the board closed the public hearing, four commissioners spoke up to say they would vote to deny the rezoning request.

Vice Chairman James Leach said that after hearing all sides of the matter, he was not in support of the rezoning.

“Hearing all of that, Mr. Chairman I would not be able to support it. I offer a motion to deny it,” Leach said. 

Commissioner Tony Hunt spoke to second the motion.

“I would like to say also, Mr. Chairman, there’s a reason that we have in our ordinance that citizens are allowed to come up and voice their opinion. A lot of reference was made to other R-8s that we did approve, and we did approve them, but as was stated the community was given an opportunity to come up and speak, and they did not. This community has come up and spoken and they’ve told you what kind of community they want to have, and that’s what our ordinance allows, for the community to come up and have a voice in what goes on in their community,” Hunt said. “And for that reason, I’m going to support this motion to deny it.”

Commissioner Harry Southerland also voiced his opposition to the rezoning, saying he was touched by the words of the Arabia residents.

“What I realized tonight, just from hearing you all talk, is that there’s one thing. There’s no place like home,” he said. “…you all come in here out of love and out of emotions for your county, and all five of us up here love our county. Therefore I understand the natural habitat, the houses and livestock, and I’m one for growth but I said earlier, I’m for smart growth, and this may not be a smart move tonight, so I’m in favor to deny it.”

Chairman Allen Thomas added his remarks and said he would vote against the request.

“I do respect people owning property. When the first proposal came and it was denied, I think you all remember that, it was when potentially apartments were going to go there, that didn’t make it through. I met with representatives and I told them, at least try R-8, but it needs to get through the planning board…and the planning board denied it. And not only did the planning board deny it, but you all who have come up and made a statement, from my perspective, you spoke loud and clear. I know Arabia, and I don’t care what they did in 2005 before I came on the board, that is not an urban area.”

The board went on to take a vote on the motion to deny the rezoning, which passed 4-1 with Commissioner Bobby Wright voting against it.

The decision was the last of a long slate of planning and zoning matters commissioners addressed on the meeting agenda Monday night.

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