Troutman Planning and Zoning Board again denies rezoning, tables industrial park decision
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Concerned residents packed the Troutman Town Hall on Monday night as the Planning and Zoning Board met to consider rezoning requests for two subdivisions and an industrial park.
After a quick unanimous vote to approve identical conditional rezoning of a 99-acre tract on Simpson Road for expansion of the Sutter’s Mill subdivision, the board next took up a request to rezone nearly 91 acres at the intersection of Hoover and Perry roads from Suburban Residential to Mixed Residential for the controversial proposed LGI Homes development.
The board rejected the same request in August.
LGI HOMES REZONING
Board members rejected LGI Homes’ resubmitted conditional medium-density rezoning request that limited the number of homes to 2.5 per acre, with a maximum of 230 homes allowed, though the developer’s plan called for 220. Current zoning would allow only 181 lots on the tract, which is currently owned by Bruce Murdock, but the town could impose no design standards.
The developer’s preliminary plan, unchanged since August’s presentation, left 30 percent of open space in the subdivision, which could only have single-family dwellings. They did agree to two materials on each facade and that the same house plan could not be built on adjacent lots.
Lots were proposed at 55 feet rather than the current 80. Setbacks were 20 feet in the front (currently 25), 15 fee in the rear, and 5 feet (currently 10) on the sides.
Town Planner Erika Martin acknowledged area residents’ concerns about the rezoning and possible development on the land, which has been vacant for decades. She also noted that no middle ground was reached between developers and residents at a neighborhood meeting last week.
“To me, Troutman is a place where people of all backgrounds can call home,” Martin said.
She estimated that the homes, which would be surrounded by pocket parks and sidewalks, would be priced around $200,000.
Martin said that Troutman has planned for growth with policies, utilities, police and other resources in place for future growth. The future land-use plan calls for all types of residential development as well as commercial and industrial growth. To grow job opportunities, “we need residential growth,” she said, noting that “residential always comes before commercial.”
Residents lined up to protest the plan for more than an hour. When an emotional Amy Crowley asked those opposed to stand, more than 30 residents rose to show their opposition. Crowley warned against a neighborhood with such close proximity between homes and the increased traffic on dilapidated, narrow roads, as well as dangerous intersections and curves nearby.
Crowley urged the board members to wait for the right developer to build a quality development under the current zoning.
“There’s nothing special here, no great value added,” she said.
Crowley also predicted that in 10 years the development would become a predominantly rental area as residents move to larger homes and rent out these starter homes to others who will not be invested in the property or community.
Martin acknowledged that under current zoning, only 126 homes could be built on the properties usable acres.
Mark Klinger, who moved to Troutman from Huntersville 10 years ago to escape such high-density developments, lamented that profit drove the developers.
“They are not about this community,” he said.
Klinger said the homes were marketed to entry-level buyers who were drawn by the monthly payment, not the value of the property. He feared the development would attract drugs, crime and poor property maintenance.
Rick Morrow expressed his concern about the impact on already crowded schools, while Joe Laffin pointed out the fire danger associated with homes pressed so closely together.
Karen Davies worried about the impact on children’s safety, particularly those that play at nearby Troutman Baptist Church. “What does the life of a child cost?” she said.
Jim McNiff pointed out the “conundrum” that Troutman faces as it grows and large tracts of vacant land surrounding the town are sold to developers, as is the landowners’ right. Property owners and developers must find a way to reach consensus because the town has a limited tax base of 1,900 families to support the town’s needs.
Alison Stroud noted new is not always better. “We can do things that are new and that are more inclusive and boost tax revenue, but that can also be better that will bring improvements to the town, not taking it down.”
“If we don’t respect tradition and what’s there, meaning your current landowners and your current people that support all of your local businesses and volunteer on your boards, if you’re not going to appreciate them, what’s the incentive to move to Troutman?” Stroud asked.
“While we want to be welcoming to the new, we don’t want to deny the tradition of Troutman because that is what is so beautiful and unique about Troutman,” added Stroud. “I think there must be balance.”
After closing the 70-minute public hearing and moderating a brief board discussion, Chairman Layton Getsinger asked for a motion to approve the rezoning request. After no motion was made, George Harris made a motion to deny the request, which passed unanimously.
TROUTMAN INDUSTRIAL PARK
Residents stayed to protest the rezoning of a tract adjoining to the north of the LGI Homes request, also owned by Murdock, for the proposed Troutman Industrial Park.
Frank Harmon of Equity Commercial Properties asked that the property be zoned to Heavy Industrial (HI), which has fewer options and conditional only zoning uses, as opposed to a multitude of unconditional uses available under the Light Industrial (LI) designation.
The developer was asking for the HI designation to be competitive with the nearby Larkin Development underway at Exit 45. Harmon pointed out that several properties close to the proposed rezoning site are already zoned HI.
Harmon added that Troutman Industrial Park would add greatly to the tax base without placing a burden on schools.
“This town needs jobs, and to get jobs you need business partners,” he said.
Larkin added that the HI designation gives more flexibility to the developer and more control to the town about what goes into the park.
Residents again cited traffic and road concerns with large trucks invading the area, as well as concerns about light, air and water pollution from the site. They also pointed out that a developer might purchase both tracts as one and build higher price-point homes on larger lots.
Martin said that 70 percent of the property could be built out if the storm water could be treated. The HI rezoning would require only a 50-foot buffer with adjoining properties and would allow buildings up to 50 feet in height.
Adjoining property owner Gene Rees said he had only had five days to investigate the effects of this change on his property. He also was notified this week that a proposed change to Exit 45 would run straight into Murdock Road through his property.
Rees asked the board for a 30-delay on making a decision so that all the property owners affected by both changes could thoughtfully consider the proposals.
After the public hearing closed, board members Karen Van Vliet and Randy Farmer expressed concerns about the impact on the proposed exit changes and the environmental effects of an industrial park on the area.
Harris favored giving the property owners the 30-day extension, though Harmon urged the board members not to delay the decision.
Board member Kenneth Reid made the motion to table the rezoning request until the November meeting, which passed 4-2, with Mike Todd and Getsinger dissenting.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
The board voted unanimously to appoint Lewis Weeks to fill the inside board member seat, vacated when Frank Whiting moved out of the town limits.
The board also elected Farmer to the vice chair position on the board, replacing Whiting.
Members also interviewed candidates Steve Rimmer, reapplying for the expired Extraterritorial Jurisdiction board position, and Grace Beasley, a former planning and zoning board member from another municipality who moved to the area.
After time for individual deliberation of their applications, the board members will vote to fill the ETJ seat next month.