S.P. to Review Zoning Map, Allowed Uses
"Are there things we can fix and change so we don't say someday, 'Oops, wish we'd done something earlier,'" said John McInerney, a recently appointed Planning Board member, during last week's Town Council meeting. McInerney is a former member of the Town Council.
Mayor Frank Quis asked McInerney, who was in the audience, to explain a unanimous recommendation by the Planning Board at its April meeting to ask the council to approve a review of the zoning map and determine whether the permitted uses in the various zoning districts are appropriate in each area. McInerney made the motion during the Planning Board meeting.
The Planning Board cited two recent highly publicized cases in which the zoning and the permitted uses for certain areas were called into question.
Last year, the Town Council voted to rezone land on the east side of U.S. 1 between Pennsylvania Avenue and Midland Road to prevent Leith from building a car dealership there. The property was zoned General Business, which permits automobile dealerships, at the time Leith bought the land and developed its plans.
Residents of several mainly retiree communities near the site asked the town to rezone the land, contending that a car dealership would harm the surrounding areas by creating noise and light pollution. Other opponents argued that a car dealership should be allowed in one of the major gateways to town.
Under threat of legal action by Leith, the Town Council voted to rezone the site to Office Services, saying that was a more appropriate use for land that adjoins homes. Leith made good on its promise by filing a $10 million lawsuit against the town in federal court. The suit is pending.
In another case, the council turned down a request from residents who asked the town to rezone land at Morganton Road and May Street to prevent town home development called Elks Ridge from being built there. The Elks Club golf course adjoins the property. Representatives of the club argued that runoff from the development would hurt the golf course.
By the time neighboring residents realized what would be built on the site, the council had already approved the architectural plan for the development.
"I told them (opponents) I wish they'd come to the council five years ago and asked for the rezoning," he said.
In both cases, the proposed uses were permitted under the zoning that had been put in place years ago. Residents who live around both sites did not realize that such objectionable uses as car dealerships or multifamily developments were permits.
"We're asking the town to look at the bigger picture," McInerney said. "Maybe it's time to look and take a global view to see if we can look ahead and avoid such problems in other parts of town."
Abigail Dowd, another new member of the Planning Board, seconded McInerney's motion during the April 19 meeting. The motion was to ask the council to approve a review of the zoning map and permitted uses in each district, particularly near residential neighborhoods, to see if the zoning is appropriate, "with as much input and publicity as possible in order to prevent future zoning problems."
The council voted unanimously to ask the Planning Board to conduct a comprehensive review of the zoning districts, last set up in 1989 under a sweeping overhaul of the zoning map, to determine if they are appropriate. Councilman Chris Smithson said it was logical for the Planning Board to conduct the review.
The Planning Board would then recommend any zoning changes to the council, which would have the final approval.
"Generally, I believe things are in good shape," McInerney said, adding the zoning map could "use some tweaking."
McInerney, who served on the Planning Board before being elected to the council, participated in the planning that went into the overhaul of the town's development ordinances and zoning map adopted 17 years ago.
The council appointed him to the board this year after he lost his bid for re-election.
Over the years, the council has rezoned land on a piecemeal basis.
"I hope you (the council) and citizens will come and look at the zoning map rather than leave us on our own," McInerney said.
He said many residents don't pay attention to the zoning map unless a problem arises in their neighborhood.
"Maybe we can sort out things," he said. "Somehow people need to become aware of what could go into their neighborhood."
Not Just React
Smithson and Councilman David Woodruff pointed out that the council had discussed the need for a review of the zoning map at previous meetings.
"The project or venture of this nature is exactly what the Planning Board is there to do," Smithson said.
He said it is the Planning Board's duty to review the Unified Development Ordinance and recommend changes, "not just react to various applications" and "continually look at the zoning map and see if it needs tweaking."
Woodruff added, "My feeling all along has been this is something the Planning Board should be looking at."
Councilman Mike Haney suggested either making it a joint project of the council and the Planning Board or creating a task force. He said the process could be to review the zoning map in quadrants, holding public meetings and getting the most input possible from the public.
It was even suggested that The Pilot could publish color maps of the town's zoning districts so people will know what kind of land uses are permitted in their neighborhoods. If they have an objection to something, they could then request a zoning change the town might consider more appropriate today to protect residential neighborhoods.
In other business, the council approved an architectural plan for construction of an annex building on property at the corner of West Massachusetts and South Bennett Street, behind the Hobbs & Upchurch office building and its parking lot fronting Broad Street.
Fred Hobbs confirmed that he plans to improve the curbing and turning width at the corner where the construction will be done. The lot is currently overgrown and has no buildings on it.
The council also annexed a section of Forest Creek Golf Club and Gilmore Park, both by petition, and appointed David Page to a vacancy on the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Sara Lindau can be reached at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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