By Catharin Shepard • Editor • After the county Planning Board unanimously recommended denial, and after hearing concerns about the process and the proposal from residents, the Hoke County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to deny a rezoning request for property on Rockfish Road.
The rezoning request, application for general use rezoning RZ-23-14 submitted by Maebuilt Inc. proposed to rezone a 3.18-acre parcel of land located on Rockfish Road near the intersection with U.S. 401 Business. The request asked to rezone the land from its current zoning of Residential Manufactured Homes to Highway Commercial (HC).
At its meeting, the Hoke County Planning Board unanimously recommended that commissioners deny the rezoning.
At the county board meeting Monday, resident Brandy Simpson brought to commissioners’ attention that the letters sent out to inform nearby property owners of the rezoning meeting, had errors in them that might have confused residents about when the public hearing would be held. Simpson provided commissioners with binders of information outlining the notification issues, and spoke before the board during the public comment period to talk about the matter.
“What month? Doesn’t say,” she said, citing the notification letters. “This is the next notice that I got for tonight. Is it Thursday the 12th or Monday the 2nd? I don’t know.” Simpson went on point out other issues with the notification.
There was no representative for the rezoning present at the meeting. At first the commissioners moved the matter to the end of the meeting agenda to allow more time for a representative to arrive. When no person was forthcoming to speak on behalf of the rezoning request, the commission opened the public hearing on the matter to allow those assembled to voice their thoughts.
Speaker Calvin Daniels, a resident of the area, brought up a list of concerns about the rezoning including traffic congestion, a risk for pedestrian endangerment, noise pollution, environmental impact and general traffic safety, among other issues.
Prominently, speakers said, the public had not been presented with a plan of what the owner wanted to do with the property should it be rezoned to Highway Commercial.
“The plan that he gave at the planning board was, he had no plan,” Simpson said. Simpson also noted that if the board approved the matter, she planned to file a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General’s office.
Daniels read off some of the uses listed under Highway Commercial.
“I just grabbed a few of them, these are probably the least desirable ones, obviously I’m not going to show you the most desirable ones if I don’t want this rezoned to Highway Commercial,” he said. “But some examples include, convenience store, which we already have, electronic gaming facilities, which doesn’t really bring around the best kind, and a bar or a nightclub, a solid waste or recycling center, and this one was odd but I saw it in the Hoke County listing for Highway Commercial, was sexually-oriented businesses. With no plan in place and a lack of a plan and a lack of what’s going on, I wouldn’t approve.”
After hearing from speakers, Commission Chairman Allen Thomas said their concerns were “very impactful.”
“I was impressed by this packet…we can be a tough body to deal with, and we have a poker face, but we don’t see every letter that goes out and what I will say is, I have a pretty good feeling how this vote is going to go,” Thomas said. “With the information I saw and how the letter was written, two errors on two different letters, I don’t see there’s any way we could have approved this item tonight.”
“I will say that the government needs to be trusted, we need to make sure we take a second look, we need to make sure that the public, when they receive this notice that is mandated by our ordinance, it is accurate information so that people can attend, because it’s clear someone could have been confused and wanted to attend this meeting, but could have come here on the wrong day,” the chairman said.
Commissioner Harry Southerland echoed Thomas and thanked Simpson and Daniels.
“I think we do need to continue to work with our great staff and make sure the letters go out appropriately and give the proper notice, and that two, I say this again, we’ve got to have smart planning as we go forward with this county. It’s a great county, we cannot put anything anywhere because someone applies for it…I don’t know why they didn’t show tonight, but I can’t support what they’re asking until people come before us and present us something that’s not only going to benefit them, but would be a benefit to the county, and I don’t see this being a benefit to the county.”
Commission Vice Chairman James Leach made a motion to deny the rezoning and Commissioner Bobby Wright seconded the motion. The board unanimously voted to deny the rezoning application. Commissioner Tony Hunt was absent from the meeting.
Hoke County Planner Jeff Dockery said that he took responsibility for the errors in the letters, and that he would make sure to “put another pair of eyes” on public notices going out from the office in the future.
In another planning matter on the meeting agenda, the board members unanimously approved a preliminary plat approval request for a 91-lot major subdivision planned for a 72.93-acre parcel of land located on Arabia Road. The subdivision is set to be called Roberts Grove. The property is zoned Residential Agricultural (RA-20).
Averette Engineering Co. P.A. submitted the request. Robert Williams spoke on behalf of the developer, and confirmed that the subdivision will be on county water service and use septic tanks. The development is located in the urban services area but sewer is not yet available in that location, so the developer obtained a sewer waiver, the county planner said.
Several people spoke during the public hearing. Kenneth Gregory of Rockfish said he had concerns about the impact to fire departments in the area, noting that it might require a rural fire department to buy a ladder truck that it couldn’t afford in order to provide fire protection.
“If you build a couple of two-story houses in that area, you’re going to put a demand by requirement to have a ladder truck for a fire house that won’t be able to afford it,” Gregory said. He additionally noted that the development could put more strain on the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office and infrastructure in the county.
Another speaker also brought up concerns regarding the development.
“I didn’t hear any basis in terms of function, benefit to the community, necessity, the same issues that exist with all the expansion, infrastructure,” she said. “The same roads that I drove on in high school in 1987 are the same roads we’re driving on now. Coming off Gillis Hill or into Rockfish or Arabia from any location at 5 o’clock is almost impossible, traffic is just brutal.”
The county board went on to unanimously approve the 91-lot subdivision plat request, with Southerland commenting that he believes the county needs to take a “strong look” at infrastructure needs.