There was an explosion of discontent Monday, May 19, in the meeting room of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, with a group of Eastover residents lighting the fuse.
    The commissioners approved a plan to make zoning ordinances more consistent throughout the city, creating a zone called a Municipal Influence Area around the the eastern part of Fayetteville that sets the standards for curbing, sidewalks and water and sewer extension.
    The plan, an agreement between the county and the City of Fayetteville, angered a group of Eastover residents who believe the formation of the MIA is the first step toward annexation of the township by Fayetteville.
    {mosimage}While the county commissioners and county planner assured the audience that any changes to the MIA that might adversely affect Eastover must be approved by the commissioners, this didn’t dampen the fuse on an already volatile crowd of Eastover residents.
    “There is only one reason for an MIA and that is to prepare an area for annexation with the town or city in that area that has the MIA,” said Morgan Johnson, spokesman for a group of concerned Eastover residents.
    Tom Lloyd, the county’s director of planning and inspections, restated that the ultimate power of the MIA rests in the hands of the commissioners.
    “If Fayetteville makes any changes to its development standards that would greatly affect the spirit of this agreement, then we will go back and negotiate before we would automatically approve,” said Lloyd.
Johnson countered, “And what’s going to happen five to 10 years from now when we have new commissioners? You say it won’t change, but you know things always change.”
    Lloyd said the greatest changes for rural citizens according to this MIA would be  the ordinance governing curbing, gutters and sidewalks — 99 percent of these regulations are designed to affect developers building subdivisions, not private citizens.
    “If there are any changes it would have to come back before you as a public hearing,” said Lloyd. “So anything different from what you see in front of you, you would have to approve.”
    Commissioner Billy King got right to the heart of the matter when he said, “One of the concerns I’ve heard is if I live in the county I don’t want the City of Fayetteville dictating to me how I’ve got to live. So, ultimately, any changes that apply will come back to this board, correct?”
    Lloyd answered in the affirmative and was backed up by County Attorney Grainger Barrett.
“What this does is specifically provide authorization for MIAs,” said Barrett. “It does not by itself become self-executing and grant MIAs. These are the agreed upon standards that the board of commissioners has control over if they’re ever changed.”
    This answer did not placate Johnson, who continued to rail against what he sees as a plan that paves the way for the eventual annexation of Eastover.
    “We do expect development in the Eastover Community,” said Johnson. “We feel Eastover is a desirable community. It’s like a breath of fresh air. But you have to stop and ask yourselves what is your motive for an MIA?
    “If you are considerate and like Eastover, you’ll vote against the MIA,” added Johnson. “Our intent is to remain rural and not look like Fayetteville.”
    Commissioner Kenneth Edge tried to cut to the need for an MIA, saying that in the past, portions of the county had complained that the county doesn’t have certain developmental standards in place; the MIA would unify the county’s development ordinances.
    “I won’t be here in 50 years,” said Edge. “I want us to plan properly for the county and know that we have done all we can as a body of commissioners.”
    Johnson did not accept Edge’s explanation, saying Edge told him personally on May 3 at the Heritage Day celebration in Eastover that he would not vote for the MIA.
Edge flatly denied this charge.
    “That is an absolute untruth,” said Edge. “It’s a bald-faced lie. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever talked to Mr. Johnson about the MIA.”
    Unfazed, Johnson reinforced his belief that the MIA is simply a land grab for Fayetteville as the Base Realignment and Closure brings more people and more development to the county.
    Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne, who was not at Monday’s meeting, was surprised at the community reaction.
    “The City of  Fayetteville supports Eastover,” said Chavonne. “We helped them to become incorporated; without us, they wouldn’t have become incorporated. I think the MIA is a great thing for Fayetteville and the county. It allows us to police growth.”
    Commissioner Dr. John T. Henley also denied that the MIA is simply a “land grab,” saying the MIA does not set the stage for annexation.
    “The city can’t go in there and annex Eastover unless it meets the letter of the law,” said Henley. “There are no annexation petitions in Eastover Township — this area is still controlled by your commissioners.
“The MIA allows us, that as development does come, it brings infrastructure with it,” added Henley. “It brings water to people who need it.”
    However, not all commissioners were on board with the MIA.
    Commissioner Diane Wheatley expressed “anxiety” over the MIA and said she was not going to support the ordinance because she felt there was inadequate communication between the commissioners and the citizens of Eastover.
    Also, Commissioner Ed Melvin declined to support the change, saying “I don’t feel like it’s where it should be.”
    Chairman Breeden Blackwell — absent from the meeting but speaking through a conference call —  said all the commissioners, as well as representatives from Eastover, had been “on board” with the MIA after meeting with the legislative delegation.
    “Everybody agreed on it and was on board,” said Blackwell. “The legislative delegation was very clear. Three commissioners met with the legislative delegation and representatives from Eastover.
“It was a gentleman’s agreement,” said Blackwell. “It was an understanding among my colleagues that if we got the planning board on board — which we did — then we would agree to this. We agreed to play by these rules.”
    Despite Blackwell’s call for unity, Melvin and Wheatley voted against the MIA, which still passed 5-2.
After the votes, citizens of Eastover milled around the courthouse parking lot, uttering unkind words about the decision and the commissioners.
    There were even rumblings among the crowd about a possible lawsuit to block the MIA.
    “This was a done deal even before they met,” said Johnson. “You heard Breeden Blackwell say over the telephone they agreed ahead of time who was going to vote how.
    “We do not need sidewalks, curbs and gutters out in the rural area of Eastover. The environmental people with the state are saying now that the open ditches like we have in Eastover are more environmentally friendly than underground drainages are.
    “It doesn’t make sense to make Eastover look like downtown Fayetteville,” he concluded

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