The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners held a joint meeting with the planning board Monday evening, presiding over five zoning public hearings, both legislative and quasi-judicial.

In quasi-judicial cases, the board must base its decisions on four findings of fact, which include whether the use will materially endanger the public health or safety, substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property and whether the use is in harmony with the area in which it is to be located. Anyone wishing to address the board on such a matter must have standing to do so, meaning they must live or work close enough to the subject property that the use has a direct impact on their own property, and any statement they make must be supported with factual evidence to suggest that the proposed use fails to meet one of the four findings of fact.

The first case on the docket Monday night, a request to construct a Circle K convenience store on the corner where N.C. 16 Business intersects Unity Church Road, fell under the quasi-judicial category. The board turned away several members of the public who signed up to speak against the proposal, including the owner of a convenience store across the street from the property in question who didn’t have factual evidence to back his claims against the Circle K, as well as a handful of residents who live off of Unity Church Road but were unable to articulate how the use would affect their property specifically. 

While their arguments were cut short, the primary concern of those in opposition to the Circle K was traffic-related, which was also a concern of several commissioners. The intersection where N.C. 16 Business meets Unity Church Road and Triangle Circle is already among the worst in Denver, and while the N.C. Department of Transportation is planning to make improvements, it’s possible that the Circle K could be completed prior to the NCDOT improvements. 

A traffic impact analysis conducted as part of the proposal for the 5,200-square-foot convenience store included data on how the project would affect the roads as they exist today, as well as in 2020, with and without NCDOT’s planned improvements to the intersection. The analysis also took into account more than 250 housing units to be built as part of the nearby Rivercross development. 

Intersections are graded A-F based on their level of service (LOS), and the intersection in question - as it exists currently - operates at LOS D during the morning peak hour and LOS E during the afternoon peak hour. 

If you add in the additional traffic expected to be created as a result of the Circle K, the intersection is expected to degrade to LOS E in the morning and LOS F, which is failing, in the afternoon. However, when the planned NCDOT improvements are taken into account, the intersection is expected to operate at LOS C in the morning and LOS D in the afternoon. 

The NCDOT project has already been funded and is currently in the right-of-way acquisition phase, with construction slated to begin mid-2020, although delays are possible. 

Other zoning cases heard Monday night included a request for a conditional-use permit to conduct outdoor auctions and vehicle sales on a 45-acre parcel on the north side of N.C. 73, west of Camp Creek Road, at the former site of the Cronland Lumber Yard. The auctions would involve construction and farm equipment, trucks, trailers, generators, welders, compressors and other equipment. 

The board also heard a request to rezone a four-acre tract on Cat Square Road from residential-single family to transitional residential, where the applicant plans to put a mobile home on the property, as well as a request to rezone 72 acres on the north side of Reepsville Road from planned development-residential to suburban residential, where the applicant plans to build his home and operate a cattle farm.

The final zoning case heard Monday night involved a request to rezone slightly more than an acre on North Pilot Knob Road from transitional residential to conditional zoning general business to operate a hardwood flooring business on the property. Several neighbors spoke during the hearing, including one couple in favor of the business who said they’d prefer that use to the abandoned home that currently sits on the property, and several other individuals who spoke against the business in fear of more commercial uses being brought to their residential area. 

The planning board will make recommendations to the commissioners on each zoning case heard Monday night and the commissioners will cast the deciding votes on each case in two weeks at their regular monthly meeting. 

In other business, Greg Smith - a Lincolnton attorney who’s president of the East Lincoln Betterment Association - addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting on behalf of the homeowners associations of several Denver neighborhoods.

“Specifically, what generated this response was a request earlier this year to take residential property and convert it to commercial,” Smith said. “HOAs don’t easily agree to each other, so when you get seven of them that agree that they’re concerned about what was occurring from a policy kind of discussion, I think it’s important to listen, and that’s the point we’re trying to make tonight. We appreciate Bud Cesena’s vote that night, but the rest of the commissioners did not really challenge the developer, who explained that he did not need the additional property that was given to him to support his business request.”

The case Smith is referring to was decided in June and involved the rezoning of six acres on N.C. 16 Business, north of Webbs Road, to permit contractors’ offices and retail sales. 

On behalf of ELBA and the participating HOAs, Smith’s requests included that all residential property should have some level of priority to be maintained as residential rather than commercial, any splitting of property between residential and commercial should be prioritized toward residential to ensure maximum buffer separation between the two and that any request to convert residential to commercial should require justification as to why the change benefits the community.

“Businesses can come in very easily and present an argument in a very organized fashion,” Smith said. “Residents can’t do that. What they’re dependent on is this process to look at the facts and do a balanced view of what’s being requested. When a developer tells you that they don’t need additional property, giving it to them makes no sense when another group has asked you not to do so. That’s the point we’re trying to make. We’re worried about people trying to do spot economic gain by converting residential properties into commercial at the cost of the residents living around them.”

A few of those opposed to the Circle K proposal that weren’t permitted to speak during that hearing took advantage of the public comment period as well. 

“At this time I wish to make a comment,” board chairman Carrol Mitchem said once all were done speaking. “We live in the United States of America. Free enterprise, market-driven and those who want to make investments can do it on their own account. What’s enough and what’s not enough is not our decision. I get so tired of hearing that.”

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