Morehead City, N.C.
May 7, 2021
TO THE EDITOR:
With respect to the controversial Starling / Osteen rezoning proposal for the parcel on Highway 24 at the entrance to Spooner’s Creek, two versions of a “Consistency Statement” and “Reasonableness Assessment” were submitted to the council for its workshop earlier in the week.
The town council must issue a Consistency Statement when a rezoning request is made that assesses the proposal’s consistency with the town’s Land Use Plan. The town council must also issue a Statement of Reasonableness when accepting or rejecting a zoning amendment.
This Statement of Reasonableness may consider, among other factors, (i) the size, physical conditions, and other attributes of the area proposed to be rezoned, (ii) the benefits and detriments to landowners, the neighbors, and the surrounding community, (iii) the relationship between the current actual and permissible development on the tract and adjoining areas and the development that would be permissible under the proposed development; (iv) why the action taken is in the public interest; and (v) any changed conditions warranting the amendment.
In the draft version accepting the Starling / Osteen rezoning request – a request that has several inconsistencies with the Land Use Plan – the council concludes that “…[t]he area adjoining the proposed development area on the north side of Highway 24 has significant commercial development and some areas within Neighborhood 9 include churches and other allowed but non-residential uses. These changes in conditions, the need to promote medium density multifamily development for independent living facilities for senior citizens, need to increase availability for commercial development in this transitioning area support amendment of the Land Use Plan, the zoning map, and the zoning classifications: to accommodate the proposed development plan to meet the needs of the community…..It is reasonable and in the public interest to make changes to the town's zoning map and Land Use Plan in order to promote expansion of space for reasonably low impact retail and commercial development within in the Highway 24 corridor and to support alternative housing options for senior citizens within our community.”
The staff drafting these documents may have relied on the brevity of the examples provided in the regulations, but these were examples for situations where the rezoning was consistent with the existing Land Use Plan.
In view of the level of opposition to this rezoning proposal, as expressed by constituents in numerous letters to the council and planning board, letters to this newspaper, signs voicing opposition placed all around town, and a petition signed by more than 500 people, the analysis is wholly inadequate.
For example, traffic safety is not even mentioned in the version approving the rezoning, and the environmental concerns raised have not been adequately addressed. A thorough “reasonableness analysis” would address the conditions that have changed that would compel the council to deviate from the zoning as set out in the existing Land Use Plan, particularly when constituents have highlighted the glut of available commercial property in the area.
Finally, it is not clear why Spooner’s Creek has been labeled in these documents as a “transitioning area.” Because of the interest in this issue, if the council approves the proposed rezoning, it is incumbent upon the members to better articulate how the rezoning change meet the needs of the community, and why the actions are reasonable and in the public interest.