CEDAR POINT — Town commissioners didn’t vote Thursday night on a controversial request to rezone a 1.2-acre tract at the intersection of Highway 24 and Dolphin Bay Estates Road from residential to business.
Comments by several board members during the work session, however, left little doubt they know they have a tough decision to make Tuesday night during their regular meeting in town hall.
For example, Commissioner John Nash said he thought sometimes the town’s land-use plan and its Unified Development Ordinance can be “at cross-purposes” with what residents and officials think would be best for neighborhoods and the town as a whole.
“I’ve got issues with it,” Mr. Nash said of the rezoning petition by property owner Craig Hill, who has said he has no specific plans for the land but wants to increase its sale value.
“I want to hear from more of the neighbors” during the public hearing at the Tuesday meeting, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. in town hall, Mr. Nash said. “I’m not saying it’s a ‘done deal’ either way.”
Specifically, Mr. Hill’s request is to rezone the tract from R-20 (residential, minimum lot size 20,000 square feet) to B-1 (general business).
Commissioner Frankie Winberry said Thursday night he is concerned that if the town rezones the property to business, the fact that the tract adjoins a canal means the state Coastal Area Management Act setback lines will come into play if anyone tries to build a business.
“I don’t think (a developer) will have anything to build on,” Mr. Winberry said. He said that might mean if someone buys the land from Mr. Hill, who was not at the meeting, and can’t build a business, the new owner could be right back before the town asking to rezone it back to residential.
The commissioner added he wasn’t sure there’s any way to not rezone the property to business, since the proposal is in compliance with the land-use plan, which calls for property along Highway 24 to be used primarily for commercial purposes.
Town Administrator Chris Seaberg, who will work his last meeting Tuesday night before taking over as the new town manager in adjoining Swansboro, reminded the board of a previous rezoning case a few years ago when property owner Andy Ennett asked the town to rezone 45.79 acres off Highway 24, near Sound Bank, from R-20 to B-1.
Mr. Ennett eventually withdrew the request in the face of opposition from nearby residents and the town created a new mixed-use zoning district for the property. But Mr. Seaberg told the board members that at the time, Town Attorney Neil Whitford told them rezoning by the board is “purely legislative” and they don’t “have to” rezone property even if a request complies with the land-use plan and the development guidelines.
In the end, Mr. Seaberg told the board, “It’s up to you” to determine what’s in the best interest of the town. “So just keep that in the back of your mind.”
He noted, however, that commissioners will have to adopt a “consistency statement” that backs whatever decision they make.
Mr. Winberry replied that, “I don’t see any benefit” to the town from the rezoning. But he added, speaking to Dolphin Bay Estates residents who were at the meeting, “If we do rezone it, we’ll monitor what goes there.”
The residents of the neighborhood turned out en masse when the planning board earlier this year addressed the rezoning petition and reluctantly recommended its approval, based largely on the land-use plan.
Several of the residents were back for the commission work session Thursday and spoke against the request again.
Larry Zado, who said he’s lived in the neighborhood for 35 years, repeated others’ assertions that a business, with more impervious surface than a residential lot, will increase stormwater runoff and pollution of the adjacent canals, which lead to the already somewhat polluted White Oak River. He said he already sees trash going into the river and reminded the board the town’s vision statement calls for preserving the natural resources of the river and Bogue Sound.
Mr. Zado’s wife, Beth, urged the board “to do thing right thing for Cedar Point.”
Resident Jerry Collier said he lives adjacent to the lot proposed for rezoning and he and his neighbors are unanimously against the rezoning, which he said would “change our lives. I don’t see any pluses for the residents.”
Larry Baldwin, the Crystal Coast waterkeeper, doesn’t live in town and emphasized he wasn’t telling the board “how to run your town,” but urged commissioners “to slow down” and look at ways to protect and improve water quality.
“There’s a lot you can do,” he said, “but it takes time.”
In a previous appearance before the board on the rezoning request, Mr. Baldwin reminded officials the town won an N.C. Coastal Federation award this year for attempting to preserve White Oak River water quality by buying more than 50 acres of land along it to preclude development by using the property as a natural area and passive recreation park.
Mayor Scott Hatsell assured the residents Thursday night that “nobody cares more about Cedar Point” than the board members, several of whom are lifelong residents.
But, the mayor, who votes only to break ties, added, “We can’t let this (rezoning request) drag on forever. We’ve got to handle it right away.”
The board does not approve all rezoning requests, the mayor added, but does “what we think is best for Cedar Point.”
He said he has walked the property and shares residents’ concerns about traffic and water quality.
“The board will consider all of these things,” he said.
The official vote on the appointment of new Town Administrator David Rief was on the work session agenda Thursday night, as was the appointment of Town Clerk Jayne Calhoun as interim town administrator until Mr. Rief takes over Tuesday, Oct. 1. However, the commissioners are using the same agenda for the regular meeting as for the work session. As such, those appointments will be made during the regular meeting Tuesday.
There will be a reception after the meeting to honor Mr. Seaberg for his more than 14 years of service as administrator.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.