Village ‘protection’ takes center stage

Published 9:13 am Friday, September 21, 2012

GATESVILLE – As county officials move forward with a proposal to allow manufactured homes in an R-1 district through a special use permit, the discussion has turned towards how to protect the integrity of existing residential areas located within the villages of Gates County.

That issue was among numerous zoning issues that were part of the Sept. 5 meeting of the Gates County Board of Commissioners.

At the Aug. 1 board meeting, Commission Vice Chairman Henry Jordan introduced two measures dealing with that issue – to revise the table of permitted uses in the zoning ordinance to allow mobile homes (singlewides and Class A doublewides) in R-1 zoned districts by special use permits (currently, mobile homes are not allowed in an R-1 district); and lower the cost of a special use permit from $500 to $100.

After having a month to ponder the merits of Jordan’s proposal, at least two county citizens wanted to address that subject as Chuck Brothers, a member of the Gates County Planning Board, and Earl Rountree of Sunbury made remarks at the Sept. 5 board meeting in reference to the manufactured homes issue.

“The commissioners need to look at what this R-1 rezoning with a special use permit will do to our already established town centers, most especially Sunbury, Corapeake, Hobbsville, Gates and Eure,” Brothers said. “(Those areas) are traditionally R-1 districts. I’m bitterly opposed to a blanket R-1 recommendation of special use in our county. Our town centers need to be representative of what they are. I believe allowing special use permits will degrade some of these town centers.”

Brothers said he personally rode along six roads (covering 22.4 miles) in the northern portion of the county where he noted 77 residences that were either for sale, vacant, or abandoned lots where homes once stood.

“I’d like to see us use more proactive measures, perhaps through a CDBG grant, and purchase some of these properties to resell to individuals thinking about purchasing manufactured homes,” Brothers said.

“I agree with Chuck, we need to draw a circle around our town centers and keep them as R-1 (districts),” Rountree suggested. “How big of an area can be rezoned without it being spot zoning? The Institute of Government has four criteria that must be met before you can rezone. I would implore you to contact them and let’s make sure of what we’re doing before we do it. We’re not the professionals on this. We need to know what is legal and what we can do.”

Gates County Planning/Zoning Director Morgan Jethro said she would rather wait for a public hearing on the issue of allowing manufactured homes in an R-1 district before passing judgment on that proposal.

“It would have the potential to degrade the village centers that historically have been single family homes,” she said. “I would encourage the commissioners to allow manufactured homes as a permitted use in the A-1 zones. This would protect our village centers.”

“This seems to have a lot of controversy around it,” said Jordan. “We can revise the ordinance to allow manufactured homes in R-1 zoned districts by special use permit only, except the core residential and business areas of the Sunbury, Corapeake, Hobbsville, Eure, and Gates Townships; which will continue to exclude manufactured homes unless an area is currently zoned RMH-1 for mobile home parks, which we have in Sunbury, which we have in Corapeake. Core area is defined as the area extending outward from the declared center of the village for one half mile in any direction on paved state maintained highways, or the area of reduced speed limit within the core area of the town; whichever is less.”

In essence, the point Jordan was making is that manufactured housing is excluded within a half-mile radius of the center of these Gates County villages, with the exception if such an already established mobile home park exists in those areas.

Jordan shared maps of the core areas with his board colleagues, showing where R-1 districts and commercial areas need to maintain their current integrity.

“I’d like to see us consider this at our next board meeting,” Jordan said. “I think a half-mile radius will work. This is only a starting point. It’s something that can be talked about and tweaked. We still to keep in mind that requests for special use permits to place a manufactured home in an R-1 district must be approved by the Board of Adjustments. Consideration will be given to surrounding property owners to see if they will favor that permit. They can say no. This is not a blanket authorization. Everyone has to be in agreement.”

No action was taken on Jordan’s proposal.

In regards to the issue impacting areas of Gates County outside the core villages, Jordan said agricultural zoned (A-1) properties can have a mobile home by special use permit.

“That’s the irony of our zoning ordinance, we can classify an area R-1 and there can be an A-1 property that comes to the road and they can apply for a special use permit and put a mobile home between R-1 homes,” he stated.

Jethro reminded everyone that upon an individual making a request of rezoning or asking for a special use permit, all adjacent landowners will be notified as required by law.

“I agree with what Chuck said earlier about our village centers,” Commissioner Johnny Hora said. “They are the place we want to grow. We have plenty of rural land in the county that lends itself to larger plots. What we really need in Gates County is a development ordinance.”

The commissioners also heard from Jethro concerning several options, discussed by the Planning Board, for a text amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance. Those options included reducing the now required 175’ of road frontage for a residential lot to 150’ and leaving the lot acreage requirement (one acre) as currently written; create a new residential district in town like areas, reducing acreage to three-quarters of one acre and road frontage to 150 feet; remove the TRC (Technical Review Committee) from the minor subdivision process; and/or leave the Subdivision Ordinance as currently written.

It appeared the bulk of the remarks made by the commissioners on those options centered on the reduction of road frontage and reducing the lot size. However, they did seem to agree that those two reductions would be better suited in new residential subdivisions (where they are 20-plus homes in a small radius and the land is suitable for drainage/septic systems).

Additionally, Jethro said there currently were 27 applications on file for the rezoning fee moratorium as discussed at the commissioners’ Aug. 1 meeting. That measure was to allow a 90-day moratorium on the fee currently charged for rezoning request applications in an effort to ensure all properties within the county are zoned correctly. She said a new fee schedule will be in place by the end of the moratorium period.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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