Swansboro Planning Board is recommending against a request to rezone a 7.83-acre tract on Queens Creek Road.

It is not the first time the town has fielded the request from the multiple owners of the property, which is across the street from Swansboro High School and Queens Creek Elementary School.

Junior Freeman, who owns two of the lots among the tract with his wife Linda, represented the group at the Sept. 6 meeting of the planning board. The other owners are Cecil Hargett and Robb Murchison, he said.

The properties that make up the tract are 140, 144, 150 and 160 Queens Creek Road, according to information provided by Paula Webb, town manger.

“It has been a continuous chore to try to get something that will fit there,” Freeman told the planning board.

The property was originally zoned Residential-20, which only allows single-family homes on half-acre lots, according to the agenda item. An attempt to have the property rezoned to Business-1, which is the least-restrictive commercial zoning in Swansboro, essentially failed twice, in 2017 and 2019. However, the property was rezoned Office-Institutional – which is a more restrictive commercial designation than B-1 – in 2020.

In each case, according to Webb, the planning board and the commissioners cited traffic on Queens Creek Road as a determining factor in the reluctance to rezone to B-1.

Freeman told the planning board – which only acts in an advisory capacity to the board of commissioners, which has the final say on matters of rezoning – that the B-1 designation would improve the chances of marketing the property.

He said that property on either side and behind the tract is zoned B-1.

“We are totally surrounded with B1 properties,” Freeman said. And while the owners have explored development under the O-I designation, B-1, he said, would provide some “flexibility.”

Thus, once again, the owners are seeking a B-1 designation. Freeman wasted no time, bringing up traffic in his opening comments.

“Traffic, each time it has come up, has been the main issue,” he said. “I was told to wait a couple of years until traffic improves. Of course, as we know, traffic has only gotten heavier.”

He pointed out that while waiting for traffic to improve, Onslow County has allowed the development of subdivisions up Queens Creek Road, which has added traffic.

The difference now, according to Freeman, is the N.C. Department of Transportation announcement that a traffic light will be installed on Queens Creek Road in that area. Already, the traffic pattern has been rearranged.

“That stoplight … is scheduled to be put in after the first of the year,” he said.

Given a chance to question Freeman, Ed Binanay, planning board member, referred to a 2019 traffic analysis by the Timmons Group, Swansboro’s traffic engineer, which cited the street’s near-failing grade.

“I’m assuming that traffic has increased … since 2019,” Binanay said.

“I am absolutely in agreement with that,” Freeman replied. “It’s increased.”

Freeman then told the planning board that he has talked with DOT about providing a second road. The access road from the rear of his tract could cross Pirates Cove and Team Chevrolet properties out to the Swansboro-Belgrade Road stoplight on N.C. 24. He’s generally found property owners to be supportive of the idea. But he admitted, that would be a long-range solution.

“That is a very long process, if anything like that is to happen,” he said.

In his comments Scott Chadwick, planning board chair, was skeptical of any DOT action.

“We all know there is money supposedly set aside for a traffic light, but I’m of the impression that I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.

Chadwick further said that the conclusion in the 2019 traffic study indicates inadequacies on Queens Creek Road in that area. Many of the B-1 uses would exacerbate that. “That was my heartache.”

Chadwick then asked Freeman if he would consider a conditional zoning. It would require a proposed use prior to rezoning.

Freeman said he believed conditional use would be too risky – a large outlay of funds for planning without a guarantee the plans could proceed – for the property owners.

“With the attitude of the town, I wouldn’t try it,” he said.

Sherrie Hancock, planning board member, cited the number of teenage drivers that accessing the same area by way of the high school as a safety concern.

Christina Ramsey, planning board member, also cited safety issue that close to the school

Mike Favata, planning board member, said he was concerned with the lack of improvements to Queens Creek Road.

“Putting a light there, in and of itself, I don’t think is the ultimate solution,” he said.

A motion recommending the request be denied was approved unanimously.

Freeman was disappointed. He said the owners of the property were denied opportunities afforded nearby property owners.

“There will not be a right time for the four owners of that property,” he said. And he added, “We are being discriminated against.”

While he could still have brought the request to the board of commissioners, following the planning board’s decision, Freeman asked for it to be placed on hold, according to Alissa Fender, town clerk.

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy@tidelandnews.com.

(1) comment

David Collins

The planning board is correct in denying this request . That section of road is out of control traffic wise and will only get worse as more and more development continues . The present owners should have thought of this before purchasing the properties . Too bad , so sad ! The upcoming traffic light will result in gridlock , if not properly managed and the chances of that are slim to none . Time will tell .

Sure the commissioners can overrule the planning board as they have done before . You know , a little wink , a nod , some campaign help , etc . Possibilities are endless .

Oh , how is that command center progressing ? Been rather quiet .

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