PILOT MOUNTAIN — Town officials shot down a request for rezoning from a developer looking to bring 48 apartments to the outskirts of the town.
A special meeting of the town Board of Commissioners held at Pilot Mountain Middle School brought out several hundred citizens Thursday evening to weigh in on the annexation and rezoning of a six-acre parcel of land on Barney Venable Road (off N.C. 268 just west of U.S. 52) to make way for a $6.7 million multi-family subsidized housing project.
After the public hearing, for which the board had allotted 90 minutes and which brought out 20 individual speakers and one group spokesman, the board voted 3-1 to reject the proposed plans.
Commissioner Kim Quinn cast the lone vote in favor of the project, with Commissioners Linda Needham and Evan Cockerham joining Commissioner Gary Bell in voting for Bell’s motion to reject the proposal, based on the town planning board’s recommendation.
“It weighed heavy on me. It was not an easy call to make, but ultimately I did not feel as though the developer was 100-percent committed to the project based on my experience with them leading up to the vote,” Commissioner Evan Cockerham said afterward.
The town Planning and Zoning board recommended denial of the application in a 3-2 vote at a meeting on Feb. 20 when a large group of the surrounding community spoke in opposition to the request, citing reasons ranging from increased traffic, potential increases in crime, and decreases in surrounding property values. Many of the same people attended Thursday’s meeting and voiced the same concerns.
Craig Stone, representing KRP Investments of Clemmons, was the first speaker up as he made his pitch for the town board to take the steps necessary for the project to move forward.
Stone said the development, to be called Pilot View, would have 48 apartments, a mix of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units with rents from $615-$766, and would represent a $6.7 million investment.
He cited similar nearby projects his company had taken on — Edgewood Place in the city (beside Walmart) and Conrad Corners in King — among the 57 communities with 4,500 units for which his company is responsible.
Stone said his buildings have a waiting list of 300-500 people in Mount Airy and a couple of hundred people in King. He said that tenants are screened with credit and criminal checks, contrasting that with how there are no criminal checks on purchasers of single-family houses.
“If there’s a problem, we can evict. You can’t do that with the owner of a house.”
After Stone finished his presentation and answered questions by the town board, Mayor Dwight Atkins read a statement by Dr. Travis Reeves, Surry school superintendent. Reeves wrote that the site was in the Pilot Mountain Elementary School district, and there was no room for growth at the school, but there was room at Shoals and Westfield.
“We will find a way to accommodate families,” Reeves’ statement continued.
The board then started the clock and began hearing public comments. Ted Shelton, of Whitaker Chapel Road which borders the area in question, spoke first.
“I pray you don’t already have your minds made up,” he began. “I would much prefer it be developed as single-family houses.”
“Economic development for who?” he asked. “It’s economic development for the developer at our expense.”
Glen Ganyard said Pilot Mountain already has one low-income housing apartment unit, and he was concerned about the location and the heavy traffic at the intersection with N.C. 268, a concern shared by several citizens.
Sonya Ganyard, a Realtor who lives in the area, said that after five years, tenants could get in with a felony; Mount Airy had 60 sex offenders and Pilot Mountain only seven; and she cited statistics of declining property values in adjoining properties to KRP’s Mount Airy properties.
John Jones said 42 houses have been built on Whitaker Chapel Road over the past 44 years, but they were nice houses.
“Leave our bedroom community alone, and let us finish what we started 50 years ago,” he urged commissioners.
William Hancock spoke of quality of life, and said, “It’s a big, red flag if government-subsidized apartments are at the entrance to a town. Take a deep breath and just say no,” he advised the board.
“It will be a quagmire to drain that pond,” said D.C. Collins, referencing both a pond on the property in question and the town’s ongoing problems on Lola Lane.
Dylan Mills spoke of the difficulties of pedestrian traffic navigating the interstate overpass and two roundabouts to get to and from town and added that there were very few, if any, jobs in Pilot Mountain.
Tracy Wilkerson echoed traffic concerns, saying, “I do not think you could pick a worse location.”
Patsy Riddle, Jeff Hamilton, Chuck Koubenec, Roger Cave, Lee Cook, Tim Childress, Kevin Shinault, Diane Phillips and Jay Phillips followed with further concerns for property values, suspicions over data presented by the petitioner, concerns over where tenants would be coming from, (“a ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy,” said Chuck Koubenec), a counter-offer regarding townhouses, security and increased police costs, and more statistics on wages and vehicle ownership.
No one spoke in favor of the project.
After the hearing closed, Commissioner Bell made a motion to reject the deal, based on the Planning Board’s recommendation.
Commissioner Cockerham spoke first, “When you’re elected, you don’t check your own values at the door. My values come from my faith which tells me that we are to care for one another, especially the poor. We are to speak up for those who do not have a voice. My God is on the side of the poor and oppressed. I think many of us in the United States are so fortunate, we tend to forget that central theme.
“One of the main things that drew my wife and I to stay in and buy a home in Pilot Mountain is the people and the welcoming nature found here. Although I do not believe that this particular site plan is appropriate and well thought out for this location, we need to remember to remain that welcoming community.
“Growing up, my family went through some lean years. There were times when we were on the verge of perhaps needing assistance. I was raised next door to an LMI property. It was just like any other neighborhood. It had good and bad people, but it was at no point a danger or a haven for crime.
“The future is now, and we need to be growth-focused. Inevitably, things change, and I want our community to be welcoming to all people, the way it welcomed me on day one. I would like us to come away from this ready to rally around new development for Pilot Mountain.”
Commissioner Quinn read off a list of keywords she had jotted down during the meeting: “Sex offenders, increased property taxes, keep things the same, destroy quality of life, poor people only use sidewalks — not vehicles, bad luck and bad decisions. Neighbors take care of neighbors, but only certain neighbors.”
Quinn said of the possible increases to the town’s costs that had been brought up, the only one she felt valid was police.
“My God takes care of not just the rich people but the poor people as well,” she said.
Quinn took issue with the association of sex offenders with low-income housing.
“That is offensive to me, as I grew up in low-income housing,” she said.
“I respect the decision of the Planning Board,” said Commissioner Needham.
“This is not about who’s going to live there,” said Bell. “I’m concerned with their safety, law enforcement and security expenses. The location is inconvenient for people who would be living there.”
Mayor Dwight Atkins said, “I believe in tax credits because people should not have to live in dilapidated houses and trailer parks, but I respect the Planning Board. I have sympathy for the people who live on the boundaries, but not so much the ones who are 4/10ths of a mile away.”
After the re-zoning request was rejected, Goodall informed the board that the petitioner requested annexation be tabled for the present.
It was, and the meeting was adjourned.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.