PELETIER — Three months after he first pitched the planning board a proposal to rezone Silver Creek Golf Course for a major residential development, owner Eddie McNeill got his wish Monday night.
Town commissioners, during their monthly meeting in town hall off Highway 58, voted 2-1 for the controversial proposal to rezone the 200 acres from B-1 (business) to R-20 (residential, minimum lot size 20,000 square feet).
Commissioner Larry Rhue made the motion to approve the change, and got support from Commissioner Dan Taylor. Alice Dunn voted in the minority, and Commissioner David Bragg was absent.
Commissioner Bill Norris – who Mayor Dale Sowers revealed Monday night had submitted his resignation from the panel effective March 19 – was not at the meeting, and Mayor Sowers votes only to break ties.
The board had voted 3-2 in favor of the rezoning request at its March meeting, but it needed a supermajority of at least four of five votes to pass on first reading.
This time, on second reading, it needed only a majority and that’s what it got, with no debate among board members.
There was no public hearing this week, as one was held in February.
Mr. Norris, who voted with Ms. Dunn against the rezoning in March and whose seat is up for election in November, said in an interview Tuesday that he resigned mainly because he was in his 16th year on the panel, had been on the planning board for a few years before that and wants to “enjoy my retirement.”
But he was clearly frustrated with the rezoning, particularly its potential impact on water quality in the White Oak River and its tributaries.
“We’re not doing enough to protect our resources the best we can,” he said. “I just felt like at this time I was unable to fulfill my duty to the citizens and the surrounding community. I’ve been honored to serve, but I felt like it was time for me to give up the seat.”
After the February meeting, Mr. Norris told lingering residents, that he, too, was very concerned about the health of the White Oak River.
“It’s the most studied river in the state, but nothing has been done” to improve it, he said then. “I want to hear more from the public and other government officials” before voting.
The commission then held a work session on the rezoning request and allowed residents to offer comments, but proceeded to the vote in March.
Mr. Norris, who spent most of his career working for state soil and water conservation districts, also told those residents, “As a commissioner, I listen,” and encouraged them to show up for meetings “and work with us and (express) concerns about drainage and water quality.
“We need you to show up,” he emphasized. “I’m very concerned, too, and I do care.”
In February, an overflow crowd of about 80 people packed the 35-seat town hall meeting room for the public hearing and all but Mr. McNeill and his attorney opposed the change. Neither was there Monday night.
Speakers during that February hearing – some from in town, but most from just outside it – said the project could harm creeks and the White Oak River, dramatically increase traffic and increase drainage problems.
At any rate, after the 2-1 vote Monday night, Mr. McNeill is free to eventually build what he estimates could be up to 220 single-family homes on the property, down from the estimated 335 when he first applied for R-15 (residential, minimum lot size 15,000 square feet) in January.
But even the smaller development didn’t sit well with some of the 20 or so members of the audience Monday. None of them were vocal during the meeting, but some wondered aloud how it could pass by a 2-1 vote, not a supermajority.
“That’s all it needs the second time,” Mayor Sowers responded.
After the meeting, several audience members outside town hall said they were disappointed the board hadn’t worked harder to make the development fit better into the character of the largely rural town. One said the board wasn’t looking after the residents, just seeking increased revenue from development at the expense of quality of life and the environment.
However, the board majority and the mayor have emphasized Mr. McNeill has the right to reasonable development of his land.
Residents who spoke in previous meetings urged the board to rezone the golf course for residential lots larger than 20,000 square feet.
During the public comment section of the March meeting, Phil Coulson, who lives just outside of town in Silver Creek Estates, said the board could do that even though commissioners previously said they couldn’t.
John Tantum, the town’s attorney, disagreed at the time, and said the zoning ordinance didn’t include R-30 or R-35.
“It says the town can enact R-35 if it chooses to do so … but that would have to start with the planning board and then go to the board of commissioners,” he said. The process, he said, would take too long to affect the Silver Creek request.
Section 1008 of the town’s ordinance states the only residential zones used in the town when it adopted the ordinance were R-A (rural agriculture), R-20, R-15M and R-10 (residential, minimum lot size 10,000 square feet). It states, also however, that, the R-35 zone is “available,” along with R-15.
The town planning board, during its meeting prior to the commission meeting Monday night, tabled discussion of whether to create an R-30 zone, agreeing more study is needed, particularly in the absence of member Phyllis Norris, wife of Mr. Norris.
However, before he made the motion during the commission meeting to approve the golf course rezoning, Mr. Rhue said he supported the concept of larger-lot residential zoning districts.
“I’ve heard we’re probably going to have two or three more housing projects (proposed in the near future) and I’d like to see us not allow anything less than R-30,” he said. “I understand that for this one … we didn’t have R-30 or R-35.”
The next step in the project is for Mr. McNeill to submit a subdivision site plan to the planning board, and commissioners and Mayor Sowers have stressed that residents will have opportunities to weigh in as that board and the commission considers the plan.
Silver Creek opened in 1986. Mr. McNeill, during the January meetings of the planning board and commission, said he closed the golf course in September after damage from Hurricane Florence and decided then to revisit a long-delayed idea to develop the property.
He said he envisions homes in the 1,800- to 2,100-square-foot range, but also noted the final number of lots is subject to many considerations, such as determination of wetlands and layout of roads.
The homes would connect to a private waste treatment plant in a corner of the golf course property, according to Mr. McNeill, and would get water from West Carteret Water Corp.
The development would be screened from adjacent residents’ homes by a 20-foot vegetative buffer.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.