ABOVE: Town Council member Sally Williams (left) takes the oath of office after re-election.
Troutman Council shoots down one controversial rezoning, approves another
PHOTO: Troutman Town Council member Paul Bryant takes the oath after winning election to his first full term. Bryant was appointed to fulfill Mayor Teross Young’s term in September of 2016 after Young's appointment as mayor.
BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Troutman Town Council meeting turned into a standing-room-only marathon on Thursday night, with over a hundred residents showing up to oppose two controversial rezoning requests in a session that lasted nearly four hours.
Before the business portion of the evening began, newly elected council members Paul Bryant and Sally Williams were sworn in by Judge Deborah Brown.
Council member Paul Henkel’s swearing-in ceremony was delayed until the January meeting, as was a nomination of Henkel to continue as mayor pro tempore and alternate to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, since Henkel is still recovering from recent surgery.
LGI HOMES REZONING
The controversial LGI Homes request to rezone nearly 91 acres of Bruce Murdock’s property at the intersection of Hoover and Perry Roads failed to gain council approval after more than an hour of impassioned pleas from nearby residents to follow the Planning and Zoning Board’s recommendation to deny the request, despite staff recommendations to approve the measure.
Town Planner Erika Martin cited nearby public sewer, water, and road connectivity, additional sidewalks, greenway trails, and pocket parks for residents, improved design controls, and a limit of 230 single detached homes as positives in favor of the project.
Martin pointed out that under current zoning, only 180 homes could be built only property. The zonjing would also permits duplexes and doublewides on the property.
Martin cited N.C. Department of Transportation average daily traffic data to show the nearby roads were adequate to handle increased traffic. She also pointed out that increases in tax revenue from 500 additional homes, of which these could be a part, could lower all residents’ taxes to $750 from the $1,042 required now to provide current town services.
Martin noted the zoning change to conditional mixed residential was consistent with the 2035 Future Land Use Plan and previous land use plans and that the property is outside of critical or protected watershed areas, making it suitable for mixed residential development.
Residents then stepped up to the microphone to refute Martin’s arguments, each garnering audience applause after their statements. They cited curvy, narrow roads, traffic back-ups, and frequent accidents as dangers to their families.
John Dulin Jr. noted that the “tsunami” of high-density growth coming up Interstate 77 and its attendant headaches should serve as a warning to town officials.
Allison Stroud praised the emotional and financial investment of area residents in the community, begging council members to avoid the transient nature of high-density residential areas. “We are fighting to preserve our pristine rural landscape," she said.
Resident Hal Landreth said residents had no objection to progress, only to progress that was primarily in the interest of developers’ profits. “These are overpriced houses that no one can be proud of,” he said.
Landreth noted the future of the town, which was in council members’ hands, depended on the council approving well-planned development that all of the community can be proud of.
Tax revenue is important, conceded Landreth, but “don’t chase the rabbit through the briar patch to get it.”
Others noted the strain on schools and fire and police resources.
Marc Klinger asked council members to remember that although the 2035 land use plan should guide their decisions, “it is not a substitute for sound judgment. We need to grow responsibly with both existing and future members of the community in mind," he said.
Before the vote, council member Paul Bryant said council members seek a balance of starter homes, farmland, medium density, and single family homes. “This is a wonderful place to live, and we all want the same thing, something that the town can be proud of that is safe and we like being in," he said.
Bryant assured residents that that council members are seeking to manage growth as best they can and that members will work with residents in every way possible.
Mayor Teross Young, a Troutman native, said that other towns “envy how we live. We value our small town feel, but I think it is important to balance that by managing the growth as it comes to us.”
Young thanked citizens for their input as well as the citizen volunteers on the Planning and Zoning Board before the council’s unanimous rejection of the LGI rezoning request.
Council members approved a request to rezone Bruce Murdock’s nearly 116 acre tract on Murdock Road to heavy industrial use to pave the way for its sale to an anonymous developer for the proposed Troutman Industrial Park (TIP).
Rezoning of this suburban residential tract, adjacent to the LGI Homes parcel, was also strongly opposed by the same neighbors, who again spoke for over an hour against this request.
The Planning and Zoning Board split 4-2 on its recommendation to approve the HI request to the council, with Randy Farmer and Karen Van Vliet preferring a light industrial designation for the property.
Martin recommended the council pass the rezoning to their preferred industrial designation, citing the low residential density in the area and the rezoning’s adherence to the 2035 Future Land Use Plan, which shows the area moving to industrial uses.
She reminded council members that Engineered Sintered Components, Kontane, C.R. Onsrud, ABT, SHA, and U-Haul/trucking businesses are all heavy industrial businesses near this tract. She also noted that all heavy industrial uses require a special-use permit as an added layer of scrutiny before any entity can build in the proposed industrial park.
The unknown purchaser will only use part of the property, so the requested HI zoning will create more flexibility in attracting additional companies to locate on remainder of the property.
Martin cited benefits of an increased tax base with higher industrial tax revenues as well as few public services required. The industries would also provide additional employment opportunities for residents as well as bring in more taxpaying home buyers to the community.
Stroud, an organic gardener, again spoke against this request, citing air and water pollution concerns for their families, farmland, and animals. She also pointed out that this HI use would repel quality developers of homes on larger lots from building on the adjacent tract that the council just preserved as suburban residential.
Stroud proposed an alternate vision for Troutman, veering away from an industrial center to a weekend destination location that capitalizes on the nearby Lake Norman, Lake Norman State Park, and Daveste Vineyards. She urged staff to focus on recruiting more businesses to create a unique shopping district with restaurants and lodging to attract visitors to support local businesses.
Others cited already heavy truck traffic on Murdock Road from existing businesses.
Edna Rimmer, whose family has lived on her property for a century, said, “We are not against progress, but progress is a good thing only if it benefits the majority of the local townspeople and improves the quality of living. To rezone a section of property for the sole purpose of tax revenue is not in the best of all those concerned.”
Karen Davies, who has a century-old farm nearby, argued that plenty of HI zoned property with appropriate infrastructure was available at Exit 42. She also noted that the retention pond of the property could be negatively affected by this development and that the property is steeply sloped in places, which the 2035 Future Land Use Plan advised against developing due to erosion, instability, and land disturbance concerns.
Russ Rogerson, executive director of the Statesville and Mooresville-South Iredell Economic Development Corporation, asked the council to vote in favor of rezoning the property to HI. He cited a Duke Site Readiness report from 2012 that designated the land as ready for industrial use.
The report suggested appropriate businesses for the tract, including auto part production, metal fabrication, light industrial assembly, and plastics.
The property can support 500,000 square feet of industrial space, according to the study. At an average value of $70 per square foot, that would mean $35 million of possible taxable real property from the parcel. The equipment in the buildings could add another $10 million in tax value.
This $45 million in taxable property would mean an additional $200,000 to Troutman’s current $1.9 million tax collection, representing a 10 percent boost. It would take 147 homes at the county average value of $237,000 to match this tax increase, but these homes would also create more demand on town services.
This 500,000 square feet of industrial space could additionally create an estimated 500 jobs, which at an average Iredell County salary of $47,700 could amount to $23 million in additional wages.
Rogerson noted companies’ investment could also produce increased residential real estate demand by employees moving into the area.
He also assured residents that Environmental Protection Agency and N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources rules would protect them from pollution dangers.
“The Troutman community has a good opportunity to pave the way for a good industrial developer who’s already invested heavily in the area to continue the quality growth in this town. It will help the town strive to balance development and build a long-range vision for this property,” concluded Rogerson.
Pat Parker, owner of the U-Haul and trucking business near the TIP site, also spoke in favor of the rezoning, saying that she respected the residents’ views but that growth is coming and Murdock Road is a natural progression for industrial development coming from the I-77 corridor.
“I have to believe that in your planning strategy that you will take as much care as you guys did with me, that my property remained pleasant to look at and maintained well,” said Parker.
She told neighbors that, if approved, the property would have barriers in place to keep it attractive to look at. Parker, who also owns Southern Treats, is proud of her investment in the community and her contributions to the tax base.
“Change is hard to swallow. It’s tough because you want things to stay the way they were, but your community is growing because it is selective and it is a good choice and people do want to be here. But without growth on the business side of it, you won’t be able to provide the community services that the town needs,” Parker said to a smattering of applause.
Before the vote, council member Sally Williams, who made the motion to approve the HI rezoning, explained to unhappy residents that she understood their fears and reservations. She noted that she lived within 300 yards of three HI businesses - Kontane, ESC, and ABT - that have all helped Troutman by bringing in increased twn and county taxes.
Williams noted that industries help the tax base, which keeps the rate lower for residential taxpayers. She reminded residents that the council had to increase their taxes 5 cents per $100 of tax value last year to replenish the fund balance money council had to use to provide town services and meet needs.
Bryant also questioned why residents had not banded together and approached Murdock to buy the property to preserve the land, which provoked some outbursts from the audience. One shouted, “No one’s offered the land for sale!”
After the HI rezoning passed unanimously, Williams, a 66-year resident of Troutman, addressed the incensed and grumbling crowd. “I know you and respect you, but I want you to respect what we need to do for all the citizens,” she said.
After dispensing of a few last items on the agenda, Mayor Young, in his customary end of meeting commentary, spoke to the dozen remaining audience members, thanking the staff for all of its hard work and dedication over the past year.
After wishing the other community members were still present, Young addressed the difficult but important decision that the council had to make for the good of the entire community. He expressed hope that community members would continue to be engaged in discussions about the growth to come up with resolutions that most are comfortable with.
Young also expressed appreciation for their engagement, the expression of all points of view, and the sharing of their opinions in this process.
Parker then asked to again address the council, expressing her appreciation for the council’s hard work all year. “You make it, just so you know, worth the effort. You make me and my team feel like we are a part of something.”
“No one understands the shoes that you sit in unless they are doing it too. I’ve never ever seen you not step forward to do what was best for the town in general and for the people, and it’s definitely obvious to me that you go to great distance to do the right thing,” Parker concluded, also expressing her appreciation of the staff and police department for taking care of the town’s citizens.
IN OTHER BUSINESS:
• Paul Bryant was unanimously approved as delegate and Sally Williams as alternate to the Centralina Council of Governments.
• Council voted 4-0 to approve an unopposed rezoning of 354 South Main Street from suburban residential to office and institutional.
• Members also unanimously approved an unopposed annexation request for 116 Addison Place.