10/29/2013 9:29:00 PM Summerfield Town Council Notes
as reported by Patti Stokes
Mayor Mark Brown called the Oct. 8 council meeting to order at 6:30 p.m. The meeting agenda and minutes from the Sept. 10 meeting were approved.
CITIZEN COMMENTS Jane Wilson, John O'Day, Mike Adams and Rich Lipinski are all candidates for town council and spoke of their backgrounds and qualifications, as did Tim Sessoms and Dwayne Crawford, both candidates for mayor.
Karen Knight, a resident of Elmhurst Estates, announced a Meet & Greet the Candidates would be held on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m., at Community Lutheran Church in Summerfield. "Come and ask your own questions," Knight encouraged.
Gail Dunham said with $8.3 million reserves, Summerfield should not have levied a tax in the previous few years. As for the recent open house she had attended for the commercial rezoning request on N.C. 150 and Deboe Road, Dunham said citizens had been presented with a "Thomas Kincade-like watercolor rendering" of a proposed shopping center and had not had their questions answered.
COMMITTEE REPORTS Finance: Finance Officer Katrina Whitt said the committee would meet again on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.
Historical: Linda Southard encouraged everyone to stop by Town Hall and see the display that the committee has set up to educate people about the role the tobacco crop played in the town's history. The committee meets again on Thursday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m.
Trails and Open Space: Paul Lambrecht said the committee continues preparations for its presentation to council at the Nov. 12 meeting. Town Manager Scott Whitaker said the Sept. 14 Music in the Park event, which included an Open Mic session and a concert by Back Porch Orchestra, had gone well and another Music in the Park would be planned for the spring.
PUBLIC HEARING Rezoning, RS-60 to CU-GB. 34.28 acres consisting of three parcels bounded on the northwest by the future I-73, on the east by Deboe Road and on the south by Khaki Drive. Interim Town Planner Julie Reid gave an overview of the rezoning request and highlighted several key issues for council to consider when making a decision as to whether to approve it, which included the Northwest Area Plan, the scenic corridor, the town's comprehensive plan which was adopted in 2010, and traffic improvements.
The petitioner wishes to develop the land as a walkable, village-type shopping center. Reid explained the rezoning hearing was to determine if a general business zone, which accommodates a wide variety of uses, would be appropriate at this location.
"Adequate water supply may very well be the limiting factor in this development," Reid stated. "Sprinkler systems will require much water." Other factors to consider included wastewater disposal, the historic Saunders Inn presently located on the property, and tree removal (a tree conservation plan will be submitted with the master/site plan).
COUNCIL QUESTIONS Elizabeth McClellan asked about new conditions placed on the rezoning and Alicia Flowers asked if nearby property owners had been given a list of all permitted uses in the general business zoning when they were notified of the rezoning request (she was told no, this wasn't legally required, but they received a list of the conditions/exceptions placed on the rezoning request).
Proponents Charlie Melvin, an attorney in Greensboro, spoke on behalf of Paul Milam, owner of the property, and David Couch, who wished to purchase and develop it. Melvin explained that an adjoining 45-acre parcel was rezoned for commercial use in 2004/2005 but had never been developed "due to various circumstances." Combining that parcel with this 35-acre parcel made sense, Melvin said, and offered the town a "much better opportunity for this property to be developed the way that Summerfield has indicated it wants that property to be developed."
With the coming of I-73 and an on/off ramp in this area, single family homes would not be well-suited for this location, Melvin said. "There is every reason not to leave this property zoned as RS-40 to be developed for single family detached residences."
John Davenport, a traffic consultant hired by Couch, said his company would work very closely with N.C. Department of Transportation on this project. "They are very serious about their roadways ... and adjacent to a future interstate, they will be even more serious," Davenport said.
With the future widening of N.C. 150 and the construction of a fourlane bridge, the vehicle capacity at this location would increase significantly, Davenport said. Noise mitigation would be essential.
Flowers asked how long the four-lane section of N.C. 150 would be and Davenport responded it would be enough to take care of the interstate on/off ramp. When pressed for more details, Davenport said he could not be more specific because this project will be a "design-build," which gives DOT liberty to modify the plan along the way.
Chuck Truby, owner of CPT Engineering, said incorporating this additional back parcel of land would make it much more conducive to creating a village-type shopping center, which would benefit the town. "If you (town council) don't rezone this (second parcel), you will probably end up with a strip shopping center. You can't develop single-family homes there because it's too close to the interstate," Truby said.
With no municipal water system, water supply will be a big hoop to jump through, Truby said, explaining the required process for drilling test wells, performing drawdown tests and monitoring any impact on nearby wells. "If our wells show a drop in the water level in an adjacent well, the state won't let us draw down that much water," he said. The shopping center's water system must provide for domestic water demand and sprinkler systems. If onsite wells would not supply enough water, the project would become smaller, Truby said.
Stormwater runoff and sewage treatment were also big issues the developer will have to deal with, with many tests performed in the process of approval, Truby added.
Flowers asked what would happen if residents' wells in Henson Forest and on Deboe Road were affected and Truby said the state would require proof that other wells were affected by wells at the shopping center.
Milam said his family had developed several communities in and near Summerfield, including Henson Forest, Henson Farms and Autumn Lake. "We have always tried to set a standard that beyond the ordinance ... that's why have chosen to work with David Couch and the Blue Ridge Companies. We know David has a long-term investment in Summerfield, he is a man of word, has great experience in the commercial world, and he has also assembled a very good team for this site," Milam said.
Couch, CEO of The Blue Ridge Companies, owns Summerfield Farms Pleasant Ridge Road and has been property development for 28 years. "If have made anything in development I think I have spent it on the farm. I love Summerfield and I love that farm," he said.
"It may seem like an odd statement, but if I had my personal druthers I would love to see that interstate disappear," Couch said, adding he always stood by his word, put together very good teams, and would be personally and 100 percent responsible for what the shopping center "looks and smells like."
A detailed master plan and traffic analysis would be provided at the next stage as required, Couch assured the council. Meetings will be held for citizen input and the shopping center would target businesses missing from the existing marketplace.
Flowers asked if a master/site plan would be brought before the council for approval and Bill Hill, the town attorney, advised her that the process requires the plan be approved by the zoning board and the town's ordinance does not require it come before the council.
Couch emphasized he had no interest in developing a strip shopping center. "That type of development has a place, but it's not something I can be proud of."
Troy Standliff lives near Summerfield Farms on Pleasant Ridge Road and spoke to David's integrity as a person and a neighbor who consistently sought assurance that the farm operations were not negatively affecting those around him. Also, he said David Couch and Paul Milam had helped the Summerfield Fire Department pay for a needed water tanker.
Sam Angel, a Deboe Road and lifetime Summerfield resident, said he lived on his family farm. "I've been here since Day 1 and I would go back to 700 people in Summerfield if I could. All of you transplants, leave. You all have created rezoning and now you want to stop growth. I don't particularly want a shopping center across the road, but I don't want a bunch of houses either. You can't stop growth."
Angel said his biggest concerns about the proposed shopping center were regarding the sewage system it would require. "I don't want to smell sewage ... He (Couch) has given me a letter and has assured me there would be no smell." Angel said two wells had already been dug on the property and "... they looked like geysers, so I do know there is some water over there."
Given that the highway was coming - like it or not - and food and gas were necessities, Angel said Couch's plan was the most responsible way to develop this property.
Scott Phillips and his family have lived on Summerfield Farms for 13 years and he said the working farm embodied what the town wants and is all about. "There is a team at Summerfield Farms and David Couch is at the center of it," Phillips said. He described Couch as being very attentive to detail and a man of integrity.
John Van Kemp said the town did not currently have a "rallying point" where it could channel a sense of community and pride, and a village-type shopping center would be a positive for the community. "I would be excited if I were in your shoes," he told the council.
Billy Tesh, Jeff Lewis, Mickey Cook, Dail Perry, Linda Southard and Randy Elliott all spoke highly of Couch's character, and said they tired of having to drive to Greensboro and other places to get the services they needed, or to go to a nice restaurant; a development such as what Couch proposed would be the best use of the property.
Opponents Cheri Pickett urged council to postpone a decision and allow more time for citizen input. "The proposal for this village doesn't seem to be in line with preserving rural character," she said, voicing concerns about water and sewer.
Ken Dunham said 80 acres of commercial development didn't support rural character, and council's decision wasn't about David Couch or his character, rather about permitted uses. He said the town's protection would only come by placing conditions on water conservation, underground septic, building heights and design. Those conditions must be in writing, because the property could be sold at any time and the rezoning stayed with the property.
Cindy Harvey, a Henson Forest resident, said the proposed shopping center wasn't the same as Summerfield Farms - unlike the farm operations, if a gas station and McDonald's were included in the center they might be open 24 hours a day. Water pressure in her neighborhood already was a problem if adjacent neighbors irrigated their lawns at the same time, she said. The shopping center could make that even worse.
Peggy McPartland, a Summerfield Road resident, said she was 100 percent opposed to the commercial development of this property. As a member of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee (CPSC), she said the group had worked diligently to devise a plan that preserved the town's rural character - strip malls, fast food restaurants and chain stores were not consistent with that goal.
Mia Malesovas, also one of 20 citizens who served on the CPSC, said the plan suggested that commercial areas should be kept separate from residential areas. Also, the illustration of the village-style shopping center presented by Couch looked more like a town, she said, adding that there was already under used retail space in Summerfield.
Shirley Jennings said she was shocked when the town's zoning board passed this rezoning request onto the council with a recommendation to approve it, then pointedly asked who on the council had voted to approve the initial 45-acre parcel of land in 2004/2005 for commercial development. Jennings spoke of the town's history, and said she didn't think making it a place for people to get off the interstate and get gas and food was wanted.
Gail Dunham said the town had not followed proper legal procedures in notifying nearby property owners about the rezoning request, and the rezoning had nothing to do with David Couch. "Anyone in the world can buy that land," Dunham pointed out. "Once this has been rezoned, this could become a larger complex."
Fran Craven said Deboe Road had been a dirt road when she and her family moved there several years ago. "We were fortunate enough to buy three acres of land and it was the most beautiful place in the world to me. There isn't a thing we can do about the interstate, but it's a thorn in my side and everyone's side." Craven said if this commercial rezoning were approved it could pave the way for adjacent property owners to sell their property for commercial development.
Dwayne Crawford, who had also served on the comprehensive plan committee, said the people who moved to the area before the town experienced such rapid growth through annexation, which began around 2000, knew they had to drive into Greensboro for services. "Summerfield has been promoted as 'close to Greensboro' - have we changed that much?" he asked. Crawford said a big issue for him was water supply.
REBUTTAL, Proponents Couch said state standards for community wells in towns such as Summerfield, which requires large lot densities of 60,000 sq. ft., with people irrigating those lots, needed to be updated. Couch addressed concerns about a Sheetz gas station and fast food restaurant operating 24 hours a day, and said this shopping center would be developed in such a way that he could be proud of it. Discussion ensued about this area being identified by the town as a commercial node, and the permitted uses in a general use business area as well as those uses which Couch had conditioned out.
"Whether you zone this acreage or don't zone it, you have a very challenging and difficult piece of property that anybody can develop without creativity ... I would love to expand that offering," Couch said.
Speaking to an earlier citizen's statement that the area surrounding this property could become like Wendover Avenue, Truby pointed out the City of Greensboro has municipal water and sewer but Summerfield does not, so commercial growth would never be close to what Greensboro has experienced.
Couch said Summerfield encompassed over 27 miles and as a developer, his job was to locate commercial centers in the right place for the market. He planned to do that with community involvement.
McClellan asked if Couch would delete a convenience store and gas station from the list of permitted uses and he said he was reluctant to delete other permitted uses without having more time to think about that.
Flowers expressed concerns about how Henson Forest's water aquifer might be impacted, and about the rezoning for the adjoining 45-acre parcel several years ago.
McClellan said there were too many permitted uses in the general business zoning that she couldn't support at this location, such as gas stations and pawn shops. "At the end of the day, the uses are what we live with," she said.
REBUTTAL, Opponents Gail Dunham said an interstate exchange could be developed without a Sheetz gas station (Couch had not specifically mentioned a Sheetz gas station, but a gas station would be among the permitted uses), and the town shouldn't be at the whim of the state's water requirements.
McPartland said she had lived in other areas that had beautiful interstate exchanges. "Don't succumb to the exaggerated horrors of what it (the I-73 exchange) is going to do to Summerfield," she said.
After just over 2 ½ hours, the public hearing was closed.
COUNCIL COMMENTS McClellan said she struggled to reconcile the comprehensive plan with the commercial development that was being proposed at this location.
Flowers said she had served on the comprehensive plan committee and knew what the committee's intent was. "I have always been a proponent of people being allowed to do what they want to do on their own property. But, we don't live in a vacuum ... I come from a place where there is lots of traffic and lots of people. I knew where I was moving when I came to Summerfield. There was no Harris Teeter or anything else ... for me to consider that someone is tired of driving into Greensboro as a reason to rezone that property, I just can't do that in good conscience."
John Wray said the commercial needs assessment that was completed in 2003 identified areas for commercial nodes. "The people in Summerfield, we owe it to them to provide a place where they can go for shopping ... In 2000 Mr. Couch wanted to rezone the farm and I think I was the only one against it. He said then what he was going to do. I thought, 'He is just like the other developers.' I was wrong and I apologized to him later. I found out that Mr. Couch does what he says he is going to do. I will support this (rezoning)."
Flowers asked Wray what part of the comprehensive plan he was basing his decision on and he referred back to the commercial needs assessment.
Brown, who as mayor does not have a vote (except in a tie), said he agreed with Wray about this area being suited for a commercial node and voiced his support for the rezoning request.
McClellan argued that the permitted uses apparently hadn't been read when the adjoining 45-acre parcel of land was developed several years ago. "Once we approve this rezoning, everything that is on that list goes with this rezoning. I don't question Mr. Couch's integrity, but things change and the zoning stays with the property."
Dianne Laughlin said the opportunity for citizen input had been given and an equal amount of citizens had voiced their support for versus against this rezoning. Wray motioned to approve the rezoning and Flowers made a substitute motion to remand the zoning back to the zoning board for further discussion and to remove additional permitted uses.
Dena Barnes said the planning board had already given its recommendation and it was the council's job to make a decision on it.
Council voted 3-2 to approve the rezoning request, with McClellan and Flowers against.
TOWN MANAGER'S REPORT Scott Whitaker announced the Christmas tree lighting will be held on Dec. 7. Exterior town hall improvements are underway and staff recruitment continues. Whitaker said the professional development conference he attended last month in Boston was very valuable.
Regarding the noise wall that DOT is proposing at the entrance to Elmhurst Estates, Whitaker said DOT has offered up what is very similar to what was on the table before. "What if residents don't want the wall anymore?" asked McClellan. Whitaker said the wall must be provided if there is a property owner there who wants it, which there is.
Council voted unanimously to accept the town attorney's recommendation to unseal closed session minutes from several previous meetings, some dating back to 2007 and several of which had redactions.
Following a closed session lasting about 40 minutes, the meeting adjourned at 11:10 p.m.