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Rezoning requests rejected

JACKSON – Two rezoning requests were denied by the Northampton County Commissioners at public hearings held here on April 5.

The first parcel that was up for consideration is approximately 100 acres located along NC Hwy 46 near Cherry Tree Road, outside of Gaston. The land is zoned Agricultural Residential Watershed 2 (AR-2), and the request was for a change to Agricultural Residential (AR).

The intended use for the land is to construct a solar facility, which is permitted in AR zoned properties but not under AR-2.

“The Northampton County Planning Board gave this request a non-favorable recommendation for rezoning,” stated Planning and Zoning Director William Flynn, adding that his office had not received any response from the public for this particular rezoning.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner asked why the planning board was not in favor of the rezoning, and Flynn answered that it had to do with the “watershed” designation.

“Simply changing the name of it doesn’t change how water runs off of the property,” Flynn said of their justification.

Even though no citizens chose to speak during this public hearing, Commissioner Kelvin Edwards said he had received a few phone calls from citizens concerned about the proposed solar farm. Edwards represents the district the property is located in.

Linda Nwadike, who said she represented the land owner, spoke briefly via Zoom about studies that have been done to show the safety of solar farms.

“The technology has been in use since the 1950s,” she explained.

She also noted that land is able to be used by farmers with no problem after a solar facility has been removed, with the exception of growing peanuts.

Additionally, Nwadike stated this parcel was supposed to be included in the rezoning request made last year for adjoining parcels, totaling over 600 acres, in the same area. As previously reported by the News Herald, the Board approved that request to rezone those parcels from AR-2 to AR in December 2020.

Board Chair Charles Tyner said he would like the county to consider a moratorium on future solar farm requests to gather more information about their impact, something he pointed out other counties have done as well. The Hertford County Commissioners approved a temporary moratorium on solar facilities in their county last October, which will last until the end of June 2021.

“What do we want Northampton County to look like in a few years,” Tyner asked.

“The person who gets the money from a solar farm is the landowner,” he continued. “So what will happen to our farmers [who rent the land]? What will happen to our fertilizer distributers? What will happen to our seed distributers?”

Tyner said his opinion was that a landowner should be able to do “whatever they desire” with that land as long as it doesn’t do anything “to harm their fellow man.”

The commissioners had no further discussion on the matter, and Faulkner motioned to deny the rezoning request. Edwards provided the second.

The vote passed 4-1 in favor of denying the request, with Tyner casting the only dissenting vote.

Following that first public hearing, Flynn presented a second rezoning request for a 5-acre parcel located on River Road near the Warren County line. That request was to change the parcel’s zoning from AR-2 to Highway Business Watershed 2 (HB-2). Flynn said the landowner wanted to put the parcel up for sale as a commercial property.

Flynn reported the Planning Board gave this a favorable recommendation after considering a number of factors including the size of surrounding properties, the disparity of uses between the two zoning districts, the potential benefits and detriments of the change, and how it would fit into the county’s land use plan.

“It’s important to look at the neighborhood as a whole,” he explained.

Flynn also presented letters from seven neighboring residents who opposed the rezoning. Edwards added that he too had received phone calls from concerned citizens about this proposal.

Due to pandemic precautions, citizens who wanted to make public comments spoke during the hearing via Zoom. Margaret Clayton, Katherine Adams, and Robert Thomas—all of whom reside very close to the parcel in question—stated their reasons for opposing the rezoning.

“As a tax payer and property owner, I would like to maintain the integrity and peacefulness of the neighborhood. Most of the neighbors here are retired citizens,” Clayton said, noting that many nearby properties are residences and not commercial businesses.

Adams said she believed the permitted uses under HB-2 were too broad for their rural community. She also said she was worried about safety and environmental impacts.

“Someone’s vision shouldn’t wind up being a nightmare for me,” Adams said of her concerns.

Thomas spoke briefly about his concerns for the already heavy traffic in the area which he believed would grow worse if the rezoning was approved.

After public comments concluded, Edwards motioned to deny the rezoning request, and Faulkner seconded. The motion passed easily with a unanimous vote.