Sunday, December 4, 2022

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After sending staff back to the drawing board, commissioners pass original land spacing proposal

Alamance County’s commissioners put one chronically unresolved issue behind them this week when they signed off on some proposed changes to the county’s ordinance for heavy industrial development.

This clutch of revisions, which the commissioners unanimously adopted on Monday, included one particularly thorny provision that called for an increase in the “land-spacing” requirement for so-called Class III Heavy Industries.

One of the idiosyncrasies of Alamance County’s non-zoning approach to land regulation, the use of land spacing has long been one of the hallmarks of the county’s ordinance for heavy industrial development. Prior to Monday’s revisions, this ordinance required at least 1,200 feet between the outer edge of any Class III Industry, such as a stone quarry, a saw mill, or an asphalt plants, and any of several “protected” structures, like schools, churches, or residences.

Earlier this year, the county’s planning board decided to recommend an increase in this particular requirement after its members abandoned a two-year-old effort to develop a system of zoning for the unincorporated community of Snow Camp. Like the defunct zoning plan, the proposed increase in the Class III spacing requirement had been driven, in large part, by a coalition of Snow Camp residents who are incensed over a stone quarry that a firm called Alamance Aggregates has set up in their community.

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At the behest of the quarry’s opponents, a subcommittee of the planning board recommended that the county increase its Class III separation from 1,200 to 2,000 feet. This proposed change was later scaled back to 1,500 feet by the full planning board, only to provoke stiff opposition from supporters of the original request when the proposed changes went before the board of commissioners in April.

After ruminating over these competing alternatives, the commissioners ordered the county’s planning department to take another look at the proposed land spacing requirement. In response, Tonya Caddle, the county’s planning and inspections director, returned to the commissioners on Monday with a compromise figure of 1,750 feet.

During a state-mandated public hearing that evening, the commissioners heard a few words of support for the revised spacing requirement from Snow Camp resident Linda Lee.

Lee told the commissioners that zone of inhibition of 1,750 feet ought to provide a sufficient safeguard to protect residents in unincorporated parts of the county from outrages like those that she said Alamance Aggregates has inflicted on the people of Snow Camp.

“Keeping the setback at 1,500 feet,” she added, “will create a small enough gap to have a devious, big-money corporation or investment firm come in and buy  three, four, or five hundred acres or more to set up a ‘nice’ heavy use industry.”

Lee’s warning nevertheless failed to impress John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners. Paisley ultimately endorsed the planning board’s originally suggestion of 1,500 feet after Caddle acknowledged that she’d be more comfortable with that figure than the latest proposal of 1,750 feet. Paisley’s recommendation was echoed by commissioner Craig Turner, who argued that a 1,500 foot zone of inhibition is already a considerable imposition on new heavy industry.

“It’s more than a quarter of a mile,” he told the rest of the board. “That seems to me like a significant setback.”

The commissioners went on to vote 5-to-0 in favor of the planning board’s proposed revision – with the board’s original proposed separation of 1,500 feet.

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