October 25, 2012
If at first you don't succeed, try and rezone again.
The Guilford County
Planning Board shot down a move by Guilford County
Manager Brenda Jones Fox to rezone the Guilford County
Prison Farm near Gibsonville for development. However, several sources said that, in the next two weeks, advocates for rezoning the Prison Farm are going to initiate another attempt to create a corporate park on that land, and, unlike the first attempt, the new effort will follow proper channels and take matters one step at a time.
According to several Guilford County
commissioners and other sources, this second attempt is expected to be much more thought out than the poorly conceived, out of the blue, rush job that failed earlier this month – a hasty rezoning request that the Planning Board defeated on a 5-to-2 vote at the Wednesday, Oct. 10 meeting.
At that time the thinking was that all Fox had to do was appeal the vote to the Board of Commissioners because she almost has six votes on that board for whatever she wants.
At the Oct. 10 meeting, Planning Board members expressed concern that there was no development plan in place, no water or sewer, and no attempt by county officials to work with residents. Planning Board members also said the land, and the ramifications of development, had not been studied to any extent, and they didn't understand the rush to rezone. In addition some board members argued the request for a zoning of Conditional Use, Corporate Park was inconsistent with the Northeast Area Plan that applies to the 618 acres that would have been rezoned.
That first effort to rezone the Prison Farm was driven largely by Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, Greensboro Economic Development Alliance President Dan Lynch and Fox, and it was assumed that one of those three would appeal the Planning Board's decision.
So it was something of a mystery last week when Alston and Lynch began quietly informing interested parties that neither the county nor area economic development officials would appeal the Planning Board's decision.
Immediately after the Planning Board voted down Fox's rezoning request, Lynch and Alston both said there would be an appeal.
Commissioner Billy Yow led the opposition to the rezoning at the Planning Board's Oct. 10 meeting, and Yow said that Lynch told him right after that decision, "We'll see you on Nov. 15" – the earliest date an appeal could be heard by the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners.
On the day after the meeting, Alston also said an appeal would be filed.
However, that appeal never came.
That was a relief to opponents of the rezoning, but no one should think for a second that the lack of an appeal means Alston, Fox, Lynch and other advocates of the plan have given up.
This week Alston said the corporate park project will be right back on track soon.
"We will make a proposal in early November," Alston said. "I don't want to say what that will be yet."
Yow said he knows exactly what the proposal will be: a feasibility study for developing the Prison Farm followed by another rezoning attempt.
Yow said the proposed study will, among other things, provide soil analysis, examine roads and traffic patterns and assess the water, sewer and other infrastructure needs.
Yow said the advocates of developing the land are still going about it the wrong way because, before anything is done, there should be a public hearing to find out what county citizens want to do with the land.
Commissioner Paul Gibson said he thinks those who favor a corporate park on the Prison Farm land will push ahead, but this time, Gibson said, he expects the request will follow the legal chain of command and will be a more deliberate approach to a rezoning – starting with the comprehensive study of the area.
Nearly all of the commissioners have said all along that they don't object to developing the Prison Farm land. However, many commissioners didn't want to charge ahead with a plan that was being shoved through quickly. Even if the land had been rezoned immediately, it would have taken well over a year to get city water and sewer and other necessary infrastructure improvements in place, and even longer than that for road expansion.
Gibson said he has never understood the rush to develop the Prison Farm and the sudden request by the manager in late September to have the land rezoned immediately.
In early September, Lynch informed the county commissioners that a company was considering putting a $100 million food distribution center on the land. That project supposedly would have brought 500 to 600 jobs to the county but it would have also brought 500 to 700 trucks a day to the roads in that area. However, that company pulled out the day after Lynch first informed the board the company was interested in the Prison Farm land.
The first attempt to rezone the farm came so fast, and with so little warning, the commissioners never even had a chance to discuss the best zoning category for the land – if, that is, it should be rezoned in the first place.
Yow said he thinks he knows where the fire is.
"Brenda and Skip want to pad their resumes," Yow said.
Yow said that Fox and Alston – who'll both be gone from county government in a few months – want to see a giant corporate park on the land so that, in the future, they'll be able to point to it and say, "Look what we did."
Lynch said there's a legitimate reason for the county to rezone the Prison Farm property now – even without any infrastructure in place.
"Companies don't want to have to worry about a rezoning battle," Lynch said.
He said it's true it would have taken a long time to get water and sewer to the site, however, Lynch added, having the land already rezoned is one less obstacle to attracting companies.
"They are looking for a reason not to come here," he said of potential occupants of the proposed corporate park.
Lynch said one thing that caused Guilford County
to be passed over for the large food distribution center was that the land wasn't already rezoned. He acknowledged that other major factors, such as the lack of water and sewer, also played a role.
Earlier this year, Lynch, in a closed session with the commissioners, requested the county pay half of the cost of a roughly $100,000 study of the Prison Farm's development potential. In that closed session, the board decided unanimously not to do so, but now the commissioners are expected to take another look at funding such a study.
Yow said advocates of a corporate park only dropped the first effort to rezone because appealing the Planning Board decision would have resulted in a legal mess.
"It would have been a quasi-judicial hearing," Yow said of an appeal.
In some zoning cases, an appeal of a Planning Board decision to the Board of Commissioners can be a quasi-judicial hearing, which carries all sorts of legal requirements – including the prohibition that participants must not have already made up their minds on the matter or made public statements about it....continued on page 2