Northampton rezones for heavy industry

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2008

JACKSON – The Board of Northampton County Commissioners has agreed to rezone property in Seaboard to heavy industrial, despite citizens’ concerns.

On Monday, the commissioners made their decision after a public hearing regarding the rezoning of two parcels totaling 407 acres. The property is located on NC 186 West near the town of Seaboard.

The decision handed down by the commissioners allows the land, which was already zoned light industrial, to be rezoned to heavy industrial.

The first parcel consists of 94 acres, while the second piece of property includes 319 acres. However, according to Northampton County Planning and Zoning Director William Flynn, 5.78 acres of the second parcel that falls within the town limits will not be rezoned.

“Typically, the larger area of land to be rezoned, the more likely it is to be reasonable,” Flynn’s decision paper states. “Staff is of the opinion that rezoning 407 acres of land from (light industrial) to (high industrial) is reasonable whereas attempting to rezone three or four acres may not be.”

Flynn noted the existing infrastructure (natural gas line, electricity and close proximity to the CSX mainline) on the land would support heavy industrial activities.

“While it is nearly impossible to predict exactly what type of use, or uses, may occupy this property, there will be a 100 foot increase in the required buffer size,” said Flynn. “Currently, there is a 100 foot buffer required between the light industrial property and any adjoining residential property. If the rezoning request is approved, a 200 foot buffer will be required between the subject property and any adjoining residential property. This should minimize the impact on adjoining neighbors as well as on the surrounding community of Seaboard.”

While no business has purchased the property, permitted uses for heavy industrial include anything from bedding and carpet manufacturing to heavy equipment manufacturing to bakeries and food products preparation and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

During the public hearing, citizens came before the commissioners and expressed concerns about the possible effects of heavy industrial facilities near their community.

Dr. Michael Procino of Seaboard said his property is surrounded on three sides by the rezoned property.

“Heavy industry does not make a good neighbor,” said Procino. “It does not do the town of Seaboard and citizens any good.”

Procino said not only would neighbors have to deal with the inconvenience of living next to heavy industry, but it was also a health hazard if any pollutants were released into the environment.

He also stated he is an oncologist and saw the effects of factories and pollution every day.

Brian Mear, speaking on behalf of William Long who owns land in Seaboard, was also in disagreement with the rezoning.

Mear noted plans for a park close to the rezoned property.

“The idea of a factory or heavy industry (near by) doesn’t really sit well with us,” said Mear.

Swain Stephenson with Rochelle Realty attended the hearing as well. Stephenson was there on behalf of both property owners, who are in agreement with the rezoning.

Stephenson said there was some interest in the property as to possibly building an ethanol plant or wood products business.

Jack Saunders of Henrico questioned if everyone knew how much water it takes to manufacture ethanol.

“It’s one of the most costly fuels to manufacture,” he said.

Saunders continued by saying the process is “draining on the environment.”

Commissioner James Hester (D-1st) asked how many homes were adjacent to the property.

Flynn said there were two and that all home owners had been contacted regarding the rezoning.

It was noted the difference of permitted uses between light industrial and heavy industrial zones is slight. Light industrial zones allow for several of the same permitted uses as heavy industrial.

Economic Development Director Gary Brown, speaking to the commissioners, said that historically they have been environmentally sensitive.

“This is the best high industrial site in the county,” said Brown.

Commission Vice Chair Fannie Greene (D-5th) asked if the rezoning was approved, would the issue have to come back before the board if a business decided to build there.

Flynn said not necessarily, unless there was a large company coming or if there were any special permit uses the board would have to approve.

After a five minute recess, Hester made a motion to approve the rezoning request. The motion was seconded by Virginia Spruill (D-2nd) and passed without objection.