Fayetteville City Council has a unique opportunity to show how it governs in a sticky situation during a public hearing June 26.
That Monday night, the Council decides whether to rezone property from rural residential to limited commercial. It’s the kind of hearing the Council has decided on countless times. But this rezoning hearing is different.
For one, the property is not in the Fayetteville city limits — yet. Secondly, the people who are fighting the proposed rezoning are not city residents. They have not elected anyone to the governing body to represent their interests.
Here’s how that works. A couple of commercial developers from Florida and Charlotte want Fayetteville to rezone 16 acres outside the corporate limits so they can get city water and sewer. To get sewer, the developers voluntarily annex the property into the city. As of late, there’s no requirement to be annexed for water, but sewer is another matter.
But here’s the rub. This “high-end” retail store’s parking lot and an area designated as public space abut the backyards of homes on Windy Creek Way in Wendemere, a well-maintained subdivision whose front entrance borders the city limits.
Plus, the developer proposes to jam this “high-end” retail store right next to Stoney Point Elementary School. It’s where King, Stoney Point, Rockfish and Lakeview roads meet.
The developer also proposes to reopen a closed portion of King Road just before it reaches the intersection. The resulting fork on King Road would funnel traffic into the commercial property via a traffic circle. That could add to or alleviate the early morning logjam at the intersection.
On the surface, it looks like a ridiculous location to put a commercial retail store. I dread having to go that way on weekdays mornings, especially when school is in session.
The developers won’t say what kind of “high-end” retail store, but rumors abound that it’s a Publix or Trader Joe’s grocery store. There is no mention of what will go in the outlying parcels fronting Rockfish Road.
There’s a Harris Teeter across the street and a Food Lion on the other side of the high school football field, part of the campus that makes up Stoney Point Elementary and Jack Britt High School. There’s also a slew of open commercial property along Rockfish Road heading toward Camden Road.
Here’s another issue for the Council to chew on. Its own planning staff recommends not rezoning the property because the land use plan says it’s supposed to be for residential development. That usually means single-family houses. But the Rezoning Commission, made up of people appointed by City Council, voted 3-2 to recommend rezoning.
So, it’s the classic commercial development rights of a landowner versus residential neighborhood quality-of-life rights for an entire neighborhood the Council must decide on. The Council also must consider getting a PWC water-sewer customer and taxpaying commercial property.
Then there’s Shivani Kohut, a Wendemere resident. She galvanized the surrounding community to fight the rezoning. Last week, she and supporters packed a Stoney Point Recreation Center meeting room with residents from Wendemere and adjoining neighborhoods — some from within city limits — to plan a strategy to convince Council NOT to rezone the property.
I attended the meeting, where at times participants couldn’t wrap their minds around the issues that Council is allowed consider in its deliberation. Instead, emotions ventured toward the possibility of crime festering in the parking lot and designated public areas.
They should instead talk about quality-of-life issues: mosquitoes in a proposed retention pond next to the elementary school, flooding caused by more impervious pavement, parking lot lights illuminating people’s backyards and traffic congestion at an already congested intersection where gridlock happens often.
But calmer minds prevailed. Shivani and a cadre of supporters organized a public information campaign. It includes passing out a flyer asking area residents to sign a petition against the rezoning.
The flyer also urges those affected to call or email Council members about their concerns and to donate money for a lawyer. Finally, the flyer urges people to show up at City Hall Monday, June 26, to fill the chamber. The group also published a Facebook page: Say NO To Commercial Greed.
I contacted all Council members via email and asked them if they had visited the site, if they had an idea of how they would vote, and if they had ever deliberated over a public hearing where Council action would affect non-city residents.
Only two responded. One — a person who I’ve always thought well of in the past — berated me for asking if he had an idea of how he would vote. Note, the question did not ask how they would vote; it asked if they had an idea of how they would vote. Perhaps the question could have been phrased better.
But as a constituent, I have the right to ask any question regarding an issue that affects me, and I have the right not to be chastised by someone elected to represent my interests.
Bill Crisp, whose district abuts the area, responded in his usual diplomatic manner. Crisp said he visited the site and does have an idea of how he will vote. He will keep his intentions close to the vest until he’s heard everything at the public hearing.
The silence from the others is interesting.