Board May Decide June 21 on Pine Forest Rezoning
June 21 is the tentative date for a recommendation from county planners on the Pine Forest rezoning request.
And at a special meeting Tuesday, the Moore County Board of Commissioners hinted that the board may be prepared to make a decision on the matter at that June meeting.
Management of the on-site sewage treatment plant and a source of water for the huge development were the principal points of attention at the Tuesday meeting, called to hear a planning staff review of the evidence and to seek direction from the commissioners.
MHK Ventures Inc. has asked the county to rezone about 1,600 acres on U.S. 211 southeast of West End from miscellaneous residential agricultural zones to Business-2 and Planned Unit Development-Hamlet zoning. The overall tract covers almost 1,800 acres.
The company wants to develop Pine Forest for residential and resort purposes. The plan calls for two 18-hole golf courses, a nine-hole course, a gated residential community, a resort community with a hotel and related amenities, and a small neighborhood shopping center.
The quasi-judicial public hearing on the request lasted about 12 hours, spanning three meetings, and did not end until March 29. The record of the hearing includes the testimony of 72 speakers and 66 attachments of evidence, according to Planning Director Joey Raczkowski.
The planning staff, which received the full transcript of the hearing on April 14, is responsible for sorting through these "findings of fact," advising on details of the countywide zoning ordinance and ultimately making a professional recommendation to the commissioners.
"I'm hoping we can have an open dialogue," Raczkowski said Tuesday.
Not a Public Hearing
His comment was made after questions were raised by David Rooks, the attorney representing opponents of the rezoning request. Rooks took exception to information presented to the board by Fred Hobbs, whose firm, Hobbs Upchurch & Associates, is providing the engineering design for Pine Forest.
The meeting was not a public hearing and was called for the purpose of receiving information from the planning department and discussion of that information.
But Rooks raised objections when Hobbs read a letter listing points of consideration and presented the document to the clerk for inclusion in the public record.
"It's beginning to look like a public hearing," Rooks said.
The issue was important because, if it did turn into a hearing, the board would have been required to start all over with the lengthy process, something no one wanted to repeat.
County Attorney Misty Leland asked Rooks how it could qualify as a public hearing. Rooks replied that Hobbs had addressed the board and handed a copy of his comments to the clerk for inclusion in the record.
At this point, Chairman Nick Picerno called a break, giving time for the attorneys to go into a huddle with Bob Koontz, the Hobbs Upchurch planner who designed Pine Forest. Joining the private consultation was Jim Van Camp, attorney for the developer.
Back in session, Rooks agreed that Hobbs had not presented new information and that a hearing was not necessary. Rooks said he had no objection as long as the engineer's presentation contained answers to questions from the board on information already in evidence.
Responding to issues raised during the hearing, Hobbs said that the developer is willing to dedicate stream setbacks as conservation easements to Sandhills Area Land Trust or a similar conservancy organization. He said the developer also proposes deed restriction lists for properties along Nicks Creek and the wetlands and buffered areas to restrict water usage and prohibit water withdrawal from the creek.
Water Source Undetermined
MHK has pledged not to draw water from Nicks Creek, which has headwaters on the Pine Forest tract. The creek is the principal water source for the town of Carthage.
However, the question about a source of water remained unanswered. Under an original plan, the company offered the county $3 million to build a water line to Pine Forest, thus eliminating the need for the county to provide water.
It was expected that Montgomery County would be the source of water. The situation has since changed, and Montgomery County can no longer supply the minimum of 500,000 gallons a day. The neighboring county has interbasin transfer issues with the state and also needs more water to accommodate a new industry.
Other possible sources, mentioned at previous meetings, include a new system in Robbins, if that arrangement works out, or Asheboro.
Hobbs said the Pine Forest wastewater treatment plant has been permitted by the Division of Water Quality, a unit of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He said that permit will require that the plant be operated by licensed personnel.
The engineer who designed the sewer plant recommended operational bond be required for a minimum of two years. The State Utilities Commission requires that bond be filed as protection again operator default, he said. The commission determines the amount of bond on the basis of the number of customers.
In discussing buffering and setbacks, Hobbs told of plans to meet with Carthage Mayor Tommy Stewart to seek a satisfactory resolution to the 75-foot top-of-bank request from the town. He proposed the use of data from the Army Corps of Engineers to determine the wetland lines.
Noting the developer's offer not to draw water from Nicks Creek for irrigation or potable water supply, Picerno asked if the condition should not be worded as "for any purpose," not just irrigation or for potable water uses.
Bonding Period Discussed
Because the PUD-H permit would go with the land, not the owner, Commissioner Tim Lea wanted to know what would happen if a new owner wanted to change the development plan. Raczkowski said that the new owner would have to go through the rezoning process all over again.
Commissioner Jimmy Melton expressed concern that the bonding period for the sewer plant should be longer than two years.
Commissioner Craig Kennedy's concern was directed at the proximity of the plant to Nicks Creek. He wanted to know if the plant could be constructed on a site farther from the creek.
Kennedy also asked if, in case of plant failure or torrential rainfall, there would be any way to direct the sewerage from the plant to the county sewer plant as a means of preventing contamination.
Hobbs said that the plant could be designed for such diversion but that a hydraulic analysis would be required.
Picerno asked if there is an impartial expert who could examine the area and the plan and advise the county as to whether the plant design and location would pose no harm to the public health and welfare, a requirement of the ordinance.
Hobbs said he knows of no such firm and reminded the board that the plant design has already been examined by NCDENR and by Moore County Public Works.
Picerno asked the planning staff and Hobbs to supply answers to these questions in time for the June 21 meeting, at which time the board will decide whether to vote or to continue the matter until a later meeting.
Among the visitors attending the meeting was the leadership of Save Our Sandhills, an environmental organization that opposes the rezoning.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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