Junior Freeman went back and forth in considering how to proceed with a request to rezone Swansboro property he represents, but in the end, chose to play it safe.

And for Freeman and the property owners the plan looks good so far. In action on Monday, Dec. 2, Swansboro Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend approval of the request to rezone the property Office and Institutional.

The property on Queens Creek Road is in the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. That is property under zoning control but outside the corporate limits. It is zoned Residential-20 Single-Family, which allows about two single-family residential lots per acre. The adjoining properties include 140 Queens Creek Road (.49 acres), 144 Queens Creek Road (1 acre) and 150 Queens Creek Road (6.35 acres), for a total of 7.84 acres.

Freeman said – and Ralph Kohlmann, planning board chairman, did not disagree – the residential designation does not seem practical.

The three tracts, owned by Clara Findley, Cecil Hargett and Matthews/Zetaier, is across Queens Creek Road from Swansboro High School and is “surrounded” by property zoned Business-1, according to Freeman.

Twice Freeman, a Swansboro developer, has come to the town asking for the property to be rezoned B-1. Neither time was successful. But in the most recent attempt, he left with a suggestion that he return with a proposal to rezone the land O/I.

In October, the board of commissioners declined to act on the request to rezone the property B-1. Instead, the matter was tabled.

The planning board acts in advisory capacity to the Swansboro Board of Commissioners. The commissioners have the final say on a rezoning request. And in this request, the commissioners did not support the B-1 designation primarily because of the potential for its negative impact on Queens Creek Road traffic.

“We have withdrawn the request for B-1,” Freeman told the planning board on Monday. “Everyone seemed to be in favor of the O/I.”

Following that meeting, Freeman said he considered coming back with a request for B-2.

In a November interview, Freeman pointed out that there is no property in Swansboro or its planning district zoned O/I.

“When you go out and look at uses … O/I is a very restrictive zoning,” he said. “It doesn’t allow a lot of uses. It’s not very user-friendly because of the limited amount of uses.”

While two of three owners – the third was not on hand – seemed to agree with O/I at the October commissioners’ meeting, Freeman was not sure.

“All of us had not looked at it that thoroughly,” he said. “We would have accepted O/I because something is better than nothing.” But, he added,  “We want to look at if the board would consider B-2.”

Jennifer Ansell, town planner, said she expected Freeman to come with a request for B-2. However, Freeman said the idea was dropped after speaking with an attorney and determining that a single request, for O/I, had the best chance.

“O/I is better that R-20,” he explained. “There aren’t as many uses … but there are a lot more uses for that property.”

At the time, he made it clear, “We’d like to have B-1. The rights of the property owner are very hampered.”

Standing before the planning board on Monday night, he brought up some of those points.

“There are not a lot of uses in O/I that apply to commercial or residential,” Freeman told the planning board. He said it is mainly for municipal use and limits what might be done on the property.

“R-20 is not really conducive to that area,” he explained. And, he added, “The O/I designation … hopefully it will be accepted and we could get something done.

“Traffic is an issue, I admit that.”

Brad Vinson, a planning board member, may have had traffic in mind when he asked Freeman about plans for the property,

“What are you hoping to put there?” he asked. “How would O/I deviate from normal?”

There are no plans yet, Freeman, as he has said in the past, said.

“There are some businesses in there,” he said of O/I. “But I don’t have any idea.”

The property is well off N.C. 24 so Freeman believes the use would have to be a service of some type that people would seek out.

In reviewing the uses allowed under O/I, Freeman said, “We could possibly come back with some conditional use.”

Under Swansboro’s Unified Development Ordinance, uses that are not permitted outright in a specific zoning designation could be permitted by either special use or by conditional use.

He also told the panel that the possibility of voluntary annexation exists, but that it would have to be a decision made at development.

Kohlmann asked about that.

The planning board chairman referred to a comment in the report from the Technical Review Committee, which states: “It was noted that the applicant had previously indicated the owners would request voluntary annexation of the three parcels.”

“That is slightly different from what you are saying now,” Kohlmann said to Freeman.

In response, Freeman said,  “The owners are not saying they will voluntarily annex now. I wanted to make that clear.”

Kohlmann looked to Chris Seaberg, town manager, for clarification on how might that affect the process of rezoning.

“That was a given up to this point,” Kohlmann said of the expectation of annexation. “What difference does that make?”

“Voluntary is voluntary,” Seaberg said of annexation. “It is at the pleasure of the owner. We encourage it.”

The town manager also pointed out that changes made by the state legislature years ago have eliminated forced annexation.

“Can that be taken into account?” Kohlmann asked.

In terms of the rezoning request, Seaberg said, “No. Annexation is irrelevant.”

A motion to recommend approval of the rezoning request was approved by a 4-0 vote. Voting were Kohlmann, Vinson and members Brad Buckley and Christina Ramsey.

Under comments from the public, Amy Hicks, a resident of Pirates Cove, chose to speak on the action.

“If it’s not going to be annexed, what is the tax benefit to the town?” she asked.

Seaberg had already answered that question when he pointed out that annexation could not be considered a condition of the request.

Hicks also mentioned impacts development might have on nearby property.

“It’s already a traffic nightmare,” she said. And, she added, development and the resulting additional hard surfaces will add to the stormwater runoff problems in the area.

In response to another comment by Hicks, Ansell, the town planner, explained that owners of property abutting the three parcels would be notified by mail of the public hearing on the request when the town commissioners schedule it. The notice would also run as an advertisement in the newspaper.

After the meeting, Freeman said that in his opinion the “highest and best” use of the property would a three-tier approach. That would include a strip mall on the road frontage with multifamily residential behind that and a warehouse and office combination to the rear of the property. The uses would work together in a way that traffic generated at the site would be spread out.

O/I would limit that, although some commercial uses available by special use, according to Freeman.

A former town commissioner, Freeman also addressed the problem with voluntary annexation, an action that he said he supports.

“When I sat on the board … we knew we couldn’t tie annexation to a (rezoning) decision,” he said. However, with the benefits of lower fire insurance rates and police protection, coupled with town incentives that reduce development fees, he said annexation is a good deal, down the road.

“It’s attractive to a developer ready to start.”

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy@tidelandnews.com.

(1) comment

David Collins

Don’t feel sorry for the property owners. They have the right person representing them. A few more trips before the board, some hand wringing, a few tears and everything will go down as planned. A major gridlock will become even more so. Perhaps another stoplight or two thrown into the mix will fix everything. Or not!

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