Monday night Surry County Commissioners Eddie Harris and Larry Phillips voted to represent their constituents in opposing a rezoning request that might ultimately put a Dollar General store in a residential area, right across the street from Flat Rock Elementary School.
Unfortunately, their colleagues on the board — Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding and Commissioners Jimmy Miller and Paul Johnson voted in favor of the rezoning, which changes the designation for the 1.35-acre parcel from residential to commercial.
What we have a hard time understanding is why.
The county’s planning board, an advisory body appointed by the commissioners to take a more in-depth look at rezoning requests and other planning issues, had voted 5-2 to recommend the commissioners deny the request.
Residents of the area turned out at a public hearing Monday to make their opposition known, and County Planner Kim Bates told the board the community was overwhelmingly against the measure. Among the reasons he cited were safety, given its proximity to the school and the likelihood of increased motor traffic; the size of the lot being rezoned; and fears that such a commercial development could harm the residential flavor of the area, “disrupt the quality of life,” he told the board.
Only one person spoke in favor of the proposed rezoning, Marty Koon, a representative of the firm which wants to build the store.
The proposal is not without merit. Koon said a new store would create 12 jobs, and while they might not be the highest paying jobs in the community, in this economy a job is a job — and a dozen new jobs is nothing to easily discount.
A store could add about $5,000 to the county tax base, according to figures provided at Monday’s meeting. That is not a lot in the scope of the total county budget, but again, in today’s economy $5,000 is nothing to sneeze at.
Still, this just doesn’t feel right. The people who live in that neighborhood are taxpayers, too, and many have been for years. They have, or should have had, a reasonable expectation that their neighborhood, zoned for residential use, would remain a residential area, without encroaching retail development changing the character of where they live. Part of the purpose of a zoning ordinance is to offer protection to people, to give them some comfort that they can purchase land in a residential area, build a house with the knowledge a factory or department store won’t be their neighbor a year from now.
Votes like the one taken by the board Monday night serve only to undermine that confidence, not only among local residents but among local business owners as well.
As for the jobs, we suspect if a business entity truly believes the community can support another Dollar General, that business would have found a place to put the store even if this rezoning request had been denied. As it is now, we question whether building a new store at this location might hurt business at other nearby Dollar Generals, and if so, is this even going to be a net job-gain for the county?
Sometimes elected leaders are called upon to make tough, unpopular choices when the overall good outweighs the potential downside of a decision. This was not one of those times. Unfortunately, the residents of this neighborhood are the ones who ultimately have to pay the price for the board — at least three members of the board — ignoring them and making a decision that is hard to understand.