PELETIER — Town commissioners took no action during a work session Thursday night, but indicated they’re almost certain they will vote Monday, March 4 to rezone the 200-acre Silver Creek Golf Course for a residential development.
However, Mayor Dale Sowers also told a smaller-than-expected crowd at the work session in the town hall off Highway 58 that golf course owner Eddie McNeill has agreed to R-20 zoning instead of R-15 – 20,000-square-foot lots instead of 15,000 square feet – likely reducing the number of lots to around 220 instead of a previously stated maximum of 335.
In addition, the mayor said he has made a procedural change – allowing public comments before new business at planning board meetings – and will ask the planning board to look at amending the town’s zoning ordinance to add two new zoning districts that would prohibit residential lots of smaller than 30,000 or even 35,000 square feet.
Finally, the mayor told the audience of about 15 that after the rezoning, but before the planning board takes up consideration of Mr. McNeill’s formal subdivision plan for Silver Creek, he’ll hold another work session to get more public input.
The planning board, which will meet at 6 p.m. March 4, will not hear the subdivision proposal, but the board of commissioners, which will meet at 6:30 p.m., is expected to approve the separate rezoning request, which would change the property from business to residential.
“We’re limited in what we can do,” Mayor Sowers said Thursday night to the audience members, some of whom wanted the board to go with R-30 or R-35 zoning for the golf course property. “We don’t have those in our ordinance. The largest (residential lot size zone) we have is R-20.
“We could add those (R-30 and R-35), but he (Mr. McNeill) has put in for R-15 and (has agreed to R-20) and it would take three or four months for us to do that. And we can’t just change our zones just (because of) him.”
Commissioner Larry Rhue agreed, saying he’d heard rumors Mr. McNeill might sue the town if the board didn’t accommodate the request in some fashion, since property around the golf course is already residential.
The work session Thursday fulfilled a promise Mayor Sowers and commissioners made earlier this month, during their regular monthly session, when they voted 4-0, with Commissioner Alice Dunn absent, to table a decision on the rezoning request. The board’s last regular meeting Feb. 4 featured a public hearing on Mr. McNeill’s request and drew a crowd of more than double the town hall’s 35-seat capacity.
The crowd was so large Mayor Sowers enlisted a county sheriff’s deputy, Lt. K.J. Jensen, to show up to keep order. All who wanted to comment were allowed to speak.
A big crowd was expected for the work session Thursday, but didn’t materialize, and those who did show up were polite and said they understood the town couldn’t hold up Mr. McNeill’s request for an inordinate amount of time while developing other zoning districts.
But those who spoke made it clear that in the future they want the town to do more to try to preserve its traditional, quiet, largely rural character, even as development pressures increase.
For example, Phil Coulson, who lives just outside the town limits in Silver Creek Estates, said “there are many issues that have to be looked at in a larger perspective.”
He said he understands it’s not possible to entirely stop the Silver Creek residential development, but suggested the town look closely at its ordinances and change them to adapt to the increasing development pressure.
He and other residents are also worried about increased traffic, crowded schools, drainage issues and impacts on the environment, including water quality in creeks and the White Oak River.
Commissioner Bill Norris agreed about the future, but also said he wants to make sure that before Mr. McNeill’s subdivision plan is approved, a number of state agencies take a look at what is happening in and around Peletier.
“He has a lot of work to do if we do our jobs (on assessing the subdivision plan),” Mr. Norris said. He specifically said he wants the state Department of Transportation to look at the roads in and around town and assess their carrying capacity, and wants engineers not in Mr. McNeill’s employ to look at drainage.
He also wants to hear state experts talk about potential impacts on water quality in the river.
“Let’s not put all the burden on the town,” he said.
His wife, Phyllis, a member of the town planning board, suggested the town establish a technical review committee – used in many other towns – to look at development proposals.
The planning board, including Ms. Norris, voted unanimously in February to send the Silver Creek rezoning request to the town commissioners without a recommendation.
That shouldn’t have happened, Ms. Norris said.
Instead, she said, the board should have said “there are a lot of questions” that need answers before the commissioners took up the request, and a technical review committee could have looked at those questions.
The planning board, she said, was “blindsided” when the issue popped up on its February agenda.
If a technical review process had been in place, she added, the workshop meeting Thursday wouldn’t have been needed.
Commissioner David Bragg agreed the town needs to look at the development process, but noted that, in his opinion, after talking to many people in recent weeks, most favor the redevelopment of what Mr. McNeill has called a failing golf course. It has remained closed since Hurricane Florence in September.
“Change is inevitable,” he said, but “progress is optional” and it’s up to elected and appointed officials to make sure change doesn’t preclude progress.
Ms. Dunn praised the residents for showing up at the last few meetings to talk to the board about the golf course redevelopment project.
“This is what we need,” she said of the participation. “We’ve begged for it. Stick with us. Help us.”
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.