Board tables massive rezoning plan

Crowd shows up for hearing

By Tom Joyce - [email protected]

A crowd is gathered at City Hall just before a public hearing on the proposed rezoning of 942 different parcels of property in Mount Airy.

Tom Joyce | The News

The heavily attended commissioners meeting as shown from the opposite side of the room.

Tom Joyce | The News

With a roomful of people watching, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners has tabled a plan to alter the zoning of 942 different parcels of property in the city.

That action occurred during a meeting Thursday night, when a public hearing was held on the mass rezoning of those sites from a present classification of R-20 (Residential) to R-15, also a residential zone but one more restrictive than R-20.

And therein laid the rub as far as the cases of some individual property owners were concerned, since rules for the R-15 zoning do not permit agricultural uses, among others. Also, a single-wide mobile home in such an area could not be replaced if it happened to burn down, thus requiring a much more costly alternative such as a house.

Those types of effects on individual parcels cited by property owners during Thursday night’s public hearing persuaded the commissioners to vote 3-2 to table action on converting the hundreds of parcels from R-20 to R-15.

The two board members in dissent were Shirley Brinkley and Steve Yokeley. It was at the urging of Yokeley that a process was launched last January to examine areas zoned R-20, which include numerous parcels annexed by Mount Airy about 10 years ago.

Yokeley has said that those in R-20 needed to be examined to make the use of the land involved more consistent with residential districts elsewhere in the city limits.

The 942 parcels subsequently were proposed for R-15, a classification added to Mount Airy’s zoning rules in 2002 which has not been used.

“We’ve never attempted a rezoning of this size before,” city Planning Andy Goodall, who led a study process at the direction of the majority of commissioners, said Thursday night when explaining the issue.

R-15 zoning is more restrictive than R-20, Goodall has said, including the mobile home replacement prohibition and ban on agricultural uses of property. He said one purpose of the proposed change is to protect property owners from certain uses now allowed in R-20 zones which generally are inconsistent with residential areas, such as nursing homes.

Goodall said affected property owners were notified about the potential rezoning through the posting of signs at locations involved and the mailing of notices. The planning director fielded roughly 100 telephone calls and emails from concerned owners, but once it was explained to them nearly all were supportive of the change, he said.

Citizen concerns

Yet not everyone was on board with the idea, judging by comments at Thursday night’s public hearing.

Board members seemed especially touched by what property owner Steve Fussell of Pine Creek Trail had to say. Fussell expressed concern not only for people being unable to replace mobile homes in R-15 zones, but horses he has kept on his property for about 30 years.

It formerly was in the county, where such an agricultural-related use was allowed. And after it was annexed by Mount Airy, that represented a non-conforming use since the site is less than 10 acres.

“Now I’m going to be non-existent,” Fussell said of farm animals not being allowed in R-15 zones.

“So I’m speaking against rezoning with such a broad brush,” he said regarding cases such as his involving a longtime use of land. “I think it would be wise to look at properties individually.”

Misty Quesinberry, another hearing speaker, also expressed concern about the inability to replace a single-wide mobile home, and three other citizens offered comments about different parts of the proposal.

Attack on mobile homes?

Commissioner Jon Cawley, who has been an opponent of the mass rezoning process since it got under way earlier this year, also attacked the plan Thursday night.

“Outside of trying to get rid of mobile homes, I can’t think of any reason to do this,” he said of approving the mass zoning to R-15.

“The whole world is against mobile homes,” added Cawley, who in the interest of full disclosure told the crowd that he does own such structures. He pointed out that under the rezoning, the owner of a mobile home that burned would not realize enough insurance proceeds to replace it with a costlier structure.

Cawley said he has problems with the rezoning overall. “I’m surprised we have allowed it to go this far.”

He thought the idea would go away, but it came alive when people began receiving their notices a couple of weeks ago.

Cawley also mentioned the case of the horse owner, Fussell. “We should not be putting people in that kind of situation,” he said of making their use of property non-conforming.

The North Ward commissioner suggested that rather than blanket rezoning, the city government should focus on situations where someone is causing problems for neighbors.

Commissioner Jim Armbrister said he thinks the R-15 zoning provides “an extra layer of protection” to property owners who could be adversely affected by certain uses permitted in R-20.

But Armbrister said there should be leeway to exclude sites which shouldn’t be zoned R-15 and thereby subjected to more restrictions.

After the word “protection” was mentioned several times, Cawley said another issue was involved. “I call it regulation,” he commented regarding a change that effectively could regulate people off their lots.

For her part, Commissioner Brinkley said she has nothing against mobile homes, but the board also should protect owners of expensive homes that could be devalued as a result of such facilities.

“We’ve got to consider these situations,” she said. “We’ve got to be considerate of everybody.”

The board subsequently voted 3-2 to table the proposal, thus putting it on hold for the time being.

Goodall, the planning director, said this at least will give officials more time to hear from constituents on the proposal.

The board did vote 3-2, with Cawley and Armbrister dissenting, to rezone three R-20 parcels located at the intersection of North Andy Griffith Parkway and Fancy Gap Road to B-4 (Highway Business). Goodall said this basically corrects a zoning map issue.

In a separate vote, the commissioners rejected a plan to rezone six R-20 parcels in the Knollwood Drive area to R-8 (Single-Family Residential) in a 4-1 vote with Yokeley dissenting.

A crowd is gathered at City Hall just before a public hearing on the proposed rezoning of 942 different parcels of property in Mount Airy. crowd is gathered at City Hall just before a public hearing on the proposed rezoning of 942 different parcels of property in Mount Airy.Tom Joyce | The News

The heavily attended commissioners meeting as shown from the opposite side of the room. heavily attended commissioners meeting as shown from the opposite side of the room.Tom Joyce | The News
Crowd shows up for hearing

By Tom Joyce

[email protected]

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