The Aberdeen Town Board met in closed session for more than an hour Monday night to determine its response to legislation passed last month by the General Assembly that rezoned a piece of property in Aberdeen.
After discussing its options with Town Attorney T.C. Morphis, the board decided to speak with state Rep. Jamie Boles, a Republican who represents most of Moore County, before taking any action.
Mayor Betsy Mofield, Commissioner Robbie Farrell and Commissioner Jim Thomas plan to meet with Boles, who grew up in Aberdeen, but no date has been set.
"That will depend on Jamie's schedule," Town Manager Bill Zell said after the closed session. "These folks have known Jamie since he was a boy. They want to give him the benefit of the doubt. They want to give him a chance to give his side of it."
Rezoning property is a power normally reserved for the respective local government, except when the state legislature intervenes.
That very issue is at the heart of recent legislation that rezoned a piece of property in Aberdeen, which town officials declare an “underhanded” undermining of their authority and that of local governments across the state.
At issue is Senate Bill 288, proposed originally to address filling vacancies on the Wake County Board of Commissioners and to establish a domestic violence fatality prevention and protection review team in that county.
But Boles later attached a provision to that legislation to permit multifamily development on land owned by P.S. Management Company of Southern Pines.
The legislation passed both houses. It did not need the governor’s signature, so it’s now law.
“They’ve usurped the entire zoning ordinance of Aberdeen for a person who doesn’t even live in Aberdeen,” Mofield said at the Aberdeen Town Board work session Aug. 1. “The legality is fine. The ethics are questionable. At the very least, it’s underhanded. It’s politics at its worst.
“It’s a slap in the face to the town of Aberdeen.”
Thomas agreed, saying, “It’s a shame.”
Zell said the town “made it clear” to P.S. Management that the property would be rezoned from R-10, which only allows single-family development, to R-6, to allow multifamily.
“We had it on the agenda for our Aug. 12 meeting,” Zell said Wednesday. “There would have been a public hearing to go through the process. Everything up there is multifamily. The town was doing it because it made sense to do it.”
Gregg Allen, managing partner of P.S. Management, said he was “never notified” and only turned to Boles after trying to resolve the issue with the town.
“We met to try to reach a compromise,” Allen said. “We had deep conversations. There was no yelling or screaming. But the message was, ‘It won’t happen.’ This is a property rights issue and protecting the value of the property.”
The land, at 695 Saunders Blvd., includes Southwick Apartments, a 36-unit complex purchased by P.S. Management in 1986, and two undeveloped parcels adjacent to the complex.
Allen, who made campaign contributions to Boles’ re-election campaigns of $250 in 2010 and $200 in 2012, said he turned to Boles for help earlier this year.
“We’re going to do whatever is necessary,” Allen said.
Boles said he viewed the matter as “a property rights issue” that he didn’t see “getting resolved” any other way.
“I’m sorry it came to this,” he said. “It was a last resort. That’s the unfortunate part about it.”
Boles said he filed a bill to rezone the property after consulting with state Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican who represents Moore and Randolph counties; state Rep. Allen McNeill, a Republican who represents a portion of Moore County; staff attorneys at the General Assembly; and the N.C. League of Municipalities.
"Rep. Boles let us know that he intended to file this legislation," said Erin Wynia, legislative and regulatory issues manager for the League of Municipalities. "We can't remember seeing a specific bill that does a legislative rezoning like this.
"Clearly, the League generally disagrees with the precedent. We believe that local decisions are best made at the local level, not the state level."
After filing the bill, Boles said he told Aberdeen officials about it and stalled it in committee.
“I was waiting on the town of Aberdeen in good faith,” he said. “I hoped we could get it resolved before the bill went through. I kept putting the bill off.”
Aberdeen officials were aware of Boles’ proposed legislation but thought the issue was moot when his bill didn’t meet a legislative deadline for approval.
But what town officials didn’t know was that the wording got attached to Senate Bill 288. They found out Aug. 1, two weeks after the bill passed.
Boles said when it became clear that Aberdeen and Allen were deadlocked, he had his bill attached to Senate Bill 288.
“I didn’t go up there and try to slide anything through,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to hide anything. I can sleep at night because I know property rights. If anybody else in this county has a property rights issue, I will listen to them.”
Allen said he has no plans to further develop the property, but is glad the current zoning would allow him to do so.
“I have accomplished what I need to accomplish to protect my property rights and the value of my property,” he said.
But Zell said he is worried about “the precedent” set by the General Assembly.
“It can happen anywhere,” he said.
Southern Pines Town Manager Reagan Parsons and Pinehurst Village Manager Andy Wilkison said they were familiar with the bill.
“I don’t know the details behind the situation in Aberdeen,” Parsons said, “but I hope the state never resorts to zoning property in and around Southern Pines.”
Added Wilkison, “I think those zoning decisions are better made locally than in Raleigh, and that would be true about any town.”