The atmosphere wasn’t exactly great for a public hearing on a rezoning request during the most recent meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, which took the unusual step of rescheduling it to late December.
That hearing had been publicly advertised by the city government, involving a request to alter the zoning of property in the 1300 block of Forrest Drive which is owned by Dr. Dean Simmons, a local dentist.
Simmons is seeking to have the 2.53-acre site rezoned from R-20 (residential) to B-2 (general business) with conditional district provisions. These typically involve flexibility for the use of land in a way not otherwise permitted within a particular zone, which may be allowed as long as certain conditions are met.
The zoning change is sought to accommodate a new 16,820-square-foot commercial (wholesale/retail) structure, the exact nature of which has not been specified. Simmons will say only that if the rezoning is approved, it will be used by a longtime local business in operation for about 30 years.
Several neighboring property owners have expressed opposition to the move.
Public hearings are a legal requirement before zoning changes can be made.
Before the scheduled hearing on the proposed Forrest Drive rezoning could be held during the commissioners meeting last Thursday night, Simmons was the first to speak during an earlier public forum set aside for general topics. He asked then that the upcoming hearing be postponed.
“There is a whole lot of confusion going on about the rezoning,” Simmons said during his time at the podium when making the request.
“What is the pleasure of the board?” Mayor David Rowe asked afterward. The commissioners were agreeable to the rescheduling and voted 5-0 to hold the public hearing during their regular meeting on Dec. 21.
In responding to follow-up questions afterward, Simmons indicated that one factor behind his request for the delay was the large crowd drawn to City Hall last Thursday for a public hearing on a separate “mass” rezoning request.
It proved to be controversial, with citizens generally speaking in opposition to that plan to change the classifications of 942 different sites from R-20 to R-15, a more-restrictive residential district.
The commissioners subsequently voted to table that rezoning proposal for further study.
In acknowledging the crowd, Simmons explained that some of the opposition to the other zoning issue might have bled over into his separate request.
The dentist said he anticipates no such turnout for the Dec. 21 meaning four days before Christmas, when the Forrest Drive matter can be considered on its own merits.
His rezoning request recently was rejected 3-1 by the Mount Airy Planning Board, which ruled that the proposed commercial use and zoning were not compatible with the predominantly residential areas surrounding Simmons’ property on Forrest Drive.
The now-vacant site on the north side of Forrest Drive is near its intersection with South Franklin Road in the vicinity of Holiday Inn Express. Some in adjoining residential neighborhoods are concerned about the gradual commercial expansion into that area.
Unusual hearing move
Longtime City Attorney Hugh Campbell said Wednesday that he doesn’t know of any other case of a duly advertised public hearing being rescheduled in such a manner.
“Not that I can recall,” Campbell said.
But he said the commissioners’ action regarding the hearing was proper from a legal standpoint.
“I think the intent of doing it that way is that by continuing it to that date (Dec. 21), it won’t be necessary to re-advertise the hearing,” Campbell said. “There will be no (extra) cost to the city.” Before last week’s meeting, both public hearings scheduled then had been announced twice in the local newspaper in a combined notice for a total expense of $569.
The city attorney also believes the postponement doesn’t violate the spirit of the public-notification process for the rezoning matter. “Everybody that was there, either for or against it, is aware of the new date.”
Campbell further cited the fact that the affected property owner initiated the delay, rather than municipal officials.
“I don’t think there are any implications for the city — for Dean there are,” which the attorney said include delaying his construction project assuming the rezoning is approved.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.