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Divided Mecklenburg supes nix Palmer Springs rezoning request

SoVaNow.com / March 12, 2014
After a heated discussion by members, the Mecklenburg Board of Supervisors voted down a request by JZ Rentals of Boydton to rezone lots along Alexander Ferry Road near Palmer Springs to allow for higher density residential development.

Several residents of Boxwood Shores, where the lots are located, spoke out against the request, claiming the change would destroy the rural character of the neighborhood. Among them were Cheryl Howerton and Ed Heffner, who said the change in zoning designation from low density to “compact density” would devalue their properties.

Howerton added that lots’ owner is from North Carolina and “does not have the interest of the existing landowners in mind” in seeking to develop the property.

Mecklenburg County Zoning Administrator Robert Hendrick pointed out that Mecklenburg County’s existing zoning regulations allow for the request made by JZ Rentals, and Board Chairman Glenn Barbour noted that the county planning commission previously approved the rezoning request on an 8-1 vote. David Brankley cast the lone “no” vote.

After clarifying that the Board of Supervisors has the authority to independently deny the rezoning request, Supervisor Bill Blalock said, “I don’t see how we can go behind these people” — residents who purchased land in Boxwood Shores with the understanding that it would be zoned for low density housing — “and change what they expected.”

County Administrator Wayne Carter said under the zoning laws, the burden of proof rests on outside property owners, not the zoning applicant, to show that rezoning would be wrong. Zoning is not controlled by the expectations of surrounding landowners, he added.

Speaking for the landowner, Bracey attorney Warren Matthews told supervisors, “In terms of changing character of the land, the county did that when it adopted its zoning ordinance.” He said the change involved is from one residential classification to another: “What we have is an increase in the use of the property that is more restrictive.” He claimed it would only raise property values of surrounding lots.

Barbour, who ultimately vote in favor of the rezoning, said, “If these people are following the zoning regulations and doing what is legally allowed, and if people in this county can’t depend on us to enforce our own zoning regulations, then who can they count on. I don’t know how we can just turn this down.”

He also told fellow Board members, “We can vote it down, but we must be willing to accept the consequences,” meaning the county must be prepared to defend the decision in court should the landowner choose to appeal the decision.

In the end, the rezoning request failed by a 6- 3 vote, with only Glanzy Spain, Andy Hargrove and Barbour voting to allow it.

In other business:

Supervisors listened to a summary of the most recent joint education committee meeting. The education committee is made up of three members from the Board of Supervisors (Glanzy Spain, David Brankley and Claudia Lundy) and three members of the School Board (Debra Smiley, Thomas Bullock and Sandra Tanner). school superintendent James Thornton and county administrator Wayne Carter also are members.

Tanner shared with the supervisors several studies conducted over the years that point to the need for new facilities, and explained why trustees favor a combined high school-middle school campus that would cost Mecklenburg County $104 million.

Lundy rebuffed the attempt by Tanner to steer the discussion toward a new building, calling instead for the schools’ prioritized list of capital improvements. Brankley added, “We don’t need to talk $250,000 for a survey if the heating needs fixing. I think the heat needs to be fixed.”

The 2014-15 priorities list submitted by the trustees would cost the county $3.4 million. Another $11.2 million is required to fulfill all of the construction needs requested by the school system, and to purchase some new furniture, playground equipment and additional vehicles for use by band programs.

The committee finally reached consensus on the need to first make repairs and upgrades to existing facilities, while developing a plan for a new school campus that meets state educational requirements and will be big enough to meet the needs of the student population for years to come.

Supevisors agreed to contract with Cornerstone EC& S of La Crosse to clean and seal an underground propane tank at shuttered Buckhorn Elementary at a cost of $7,850.

Seth Bowen’s request to operate a landscaping business at his home on Wilbourne Road in Skipwith was granted, as was a request by Robert and Tamara Furr to operate a retail store for landscaping materials on Golf Drive in Bracey.

Supervisors approved staff’s request to decrease the county’s contribution to employees Health Savings Account from $3,600 to $2,700 for a family and from $1,800 to $1,350 for an individual effective July 1, to offset the 18.6 percent increase in insurance costs “due to a high claims year and increases due to the Affordable Care Act,” according to Betty Mimick with Bankers Insurance.

During Board member comments, Jim Jennings asked supervisors to consider filing a formal complaint with the Virginia Attorney General protest the drastic rise in propane costs. He said on Jan. 21, propane cost $1.79 per gallon and less than six days later the price had risen to over $3 per gallon. “I’m concerned about people who can’t afford to stay warm and they are getting overcharged,” said Jennings.

Andy Hargrove thanked the board for adopting a resolution recognizing April as Child Abuse Prevention month.

Brankley said of the joint education committee, “We [supervisors and school trustees] weren’t doing a good job of communicating on both sides. Right now we need our schools repaired and its past time of point fingers as to whose fault it is, we just need to keep moving forward.”

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