Zoning issues are becoming more of a problem for the county and its eleven municipalities as business developers and property owners, seeking to expand commercial development, encroach into areas originally zoned for residential use. The result of these conflicts are rezoning requests that if not cautiously adjudicated could diminish confidence in how governing boards will handle growth. This, in turn, diminishes the willingness to make substantial long term financial commitments by both businesses and individuals.
Several recent rezoning requests exemplify the growing conflict inherent in these changes that pit commercial developers against homeowners.
Last week, Cedar Point Planning Board voted to deny a request to change property just north of Cedar Point Villas from residential to commercial use that would allow boat and golf storage. Opponents to the change complained that “it was an unwelcomed intrusion into a largely residential area” and that the added impervious surface would increase flooding problems for the nearby homes.
The previous month county commissioners tabled a rezoning request for converting property fronting N.C. Highway 24 from R-15M (single family residential) to B-3(general business). Michael Grice, whose home is near the parcel to be rezoned explained his opposition stating that “To change that place from the zoning it is now, from a residential to a business zoning, would change our whole world dramatically.”
This past week Spooners Creek residents disagreed with the Morehead City Planning Board’s decision to accept a request to rezone 23 acres from single-family residential district to a multifamily and highway commercial zoning district that would allow for construction of a marine retailer and an independent senior living community. That decision will now go to the Morehead City Town Board in March for final consideration.
Local planning boards that provide guidance in zoning and long range land planning, along with the elected officials who make the final decision in zoning and rezoning requests need to be very cautious in their decision making.
Zoning is an important tool for maintaining the security and long term viability of a county and municipality. It provides local governments a guide for the distribution and location of services such as fire departments, parks and schools along with water and sewer infrastructure to name a few of the public services that are key to any community.
As a predictor of long term planning, and arguably a quasi-contractual agreement between the public and government entities, zoning gives confidence for both personal and business property investment in the community as decisions, such as home buying or business development, are contemplated.
But when these plans become pliable as a result of rezoning, current and future investors become less confident in their opportunities and tend to shy away from making long term financial commitments.
There are instances where rezoning has benefited both the community and nearby property owners. A good example of this overriding benefit was the rezoning permitted by the town of Peletier which voted to rezone a parcel from R-15 to MC (mobile homes, campground). In defending that change, Peletier Mayor Dale Sowers noted that this will enhance property that had fallen into disrepair with dilapidated and abandoned mobile homes.
But the increasing conflict between commercial and residential uses of land caused Newport Town Manager Bryan Chadwick to offer a cautionary observation.
Following a decision by the Newport board of commissioners, approving the rezoning of a 12- acre plat, originally zoned R-20A (residential) to LI-CD (light industrial, conditional use), Mr. Chadwick expressed concern about the stress on Newport’s future residential growth because of I-42 construction to be concluded in the next eight years. “We know the importance of the highway and what it will mean for Newport,” Mr. Chadwick stated. “A lot of people think it will be for visitors (to the county’s beaches), it will (also) be for people moving here permanently.”
There will always be competitive interests in land use. But once a plan is established the governing boards should be very cautious about radical changes that can create distrust and doubt that eventually results in diminished investments. Absent a compelling argument that justifies a radical change on behalf of current and future property owners, the elected boards should err on the side of the existing zoning to protect the investments already in place.