Jun. 8—ELIZABETHTOWN — Residents near a proposed zoning change voiced strong opposition to the plan, and lack thereof, from Fayetteville real estate developer Joe Riddle.
The Monday night meeting of the Bladen County commissioners, featuring that topic among three public hearings, drew enough interest that chairs kept being brought in to the bottom floor room. No action was taken, but discussion on the unanimous endorsement from the county's planning board indicates that group only heard from one side on the matter in what is not an unusual occurrence.
Commissioners, on the other hand, got both sides. Seven of them were present, and two attended part of the meeting by the internet application Zoom before being excused for other commitments. All were present for the three public hearings.
Because the meeting included remote attendance, state law mandates allowance for comments to be submitted to the county clerk's office toward any of the public hearings for 24 hours after their respective conclusion.
Riddle seeks to develop 4.89 acres on N.C. 87, a trapezoid shaped parcel at the intersection of N.C. 41 owned by Linda Harrelson, Teresa Norris, Beverly Brady, Clara Butler, Lavonda Tatum and Jennifer Britt. The change sought is from residential agriculture to commercial.
Riddle was joined by attorney Lonnie Player, of the Fayetteville firm Player McLean.
The presentation by Riddle and Player unfolded a surprise to the residents. The application to the planning board, which requires a site plan, had paperwork to include soil and site evaluation "for subsurface waste disposal, Bladen Convenience Gas & Deli" but Player said they had since learned forced main sewer is available.
The developer said he wasn't sure what would go on the site, that more options were available because of the new knowledge on sewer. He described many experiences, up to and including large-chain grocers he had previously dealt with such as Food Lion. The county has five commercial zoning designations, and developers are bound only by their limits; in other words, a proposal that includes a convenience store is not binding.
Lynn King, Alan Brisson and William McNeill each spoke in opposition. Brisson said he bought the house next to the property with his life's savings, and said owners of the property were true to their word in offering him a first chance to buy the land.
"We don't have $1.8 million in assets to fork out money for property to just sit there," he said.
The opponents of the zoning change emphasized the uncertainty of what may be developed, and voiced concern for a number of possible ramifications. Riddle emphasized he didn't want to "be the bad guy," advocated for commercial development rather than residential, and he vowed to move forward with purchase and future development even if this zoning change is denied.
"I know it may take years before the site is ready for development," Riddle said.
The other public hearings were for:
—Fiscal year 2021-22 budget: Nathan Dowless, director of Emergency Services, offered a change in his request for a needed truck. Bladen Community College, represented by Dr. Amanda Lee, Dennis Troy and Jay Stanley, shared appreciation for the board's support and provided brief anecdotes of student success stories. Lee is the president, Troy the chairman of the trustees, and Stanley vice president for Finance and Administration.
—Proposed economic development 2021-22 budget: There were no comments and the hearing lasted just seconds.
The board approved a 21-item consent agenda; gave a proclamation for Elder Abuse Awareness Month to Vickie Smith of the Department of Social Services, Kelly Robeson of the Division of Aging, and Dr. Terri Duncan of the Health Department; and indicated support for a tax rate increase in the Dublin Fire District.
Dowless explained a generator project involving East Bladen and West Bladen high schools has stalled as new information has been uncovered and financial requests have hit road blocks. He said the effort would be reconfigured and restarted, with the ultimate goal to have generators that can power the bottom floors — primarily air conditioning in the main and auxiliary gyms, and food service areas — of each school. He estimated the combined cost to the county and school district at $1.5 million.
Commissioners had two different junctures where discussion ensued about closed session procedure. All must adhere to state public meetings law in general statute 143-318.11.
During County Manager Greg Martin's report, the board approved a deed and lease transaction with the Bladen County Schools. It involves the new grades K-8 school to be built in Tar Heel.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @alanwooten19.