Burlington’s city council may have a long night ahead of itself this coming Tuesday due to a pair of rather contentious rezoning requests that are scheduled to come up for its consideration that evening.
The council is currently scheduled to hold one public hearing that evening about a proposed change to a proposed subdivision that it has previously approved on the grounds of the now-defunct Shamrock Golf Course. Also on the calendar that evening is a rezoning request for a Muslim cemetery along Hanford Road across from the grounds of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.
Although the proposed burial ground has clinched Blessed Sacrament’s support, it hasn’t gone over as well with the city’s municipal staff, who are eager to preserve the cemetery’s site for industrial use.
Lawson Brown, an attorney for the Burlington mosque that has requested the cemetery, made much of the staff’s opposition when he presented his client’s proposal to the city’s planning and zoning commission last month. A partner with the Vernon Law Firm who also doubles as Mebane’s city attorney, Brown pointed out that the mosque’s plans were barraged with about five dozen comments from a staff-level technical review committee – which has resulted in some major concessions from his client.
Brown told the planning commission that the mosque, which is officially known as the Burlington Makkah Masjid, has agreed to limit the proposed cemetery to a 1.3-acre sliver of the 15.5-acre tract where it hopes to develop the new burial ground. The Masjid has also pledged to set aside the balance of the property for industrial use and to request annexation for the portion of the tract that isn’t already within Burlington’s municipal limits.
The planning commission ultimately deadlocked 3-to-3 on whether to endorse the request to the council. This split vote was enough to secure an automatic hearing before the city council on February 16 – albeit without a recommendation one way or the other from the planning commission.
With this hearing stamped onto its calendar, Burlington’s city council took a few moments to learn more about the proposed cemetery during its latest monthly work session last Monday.
During the work session, Mike Nunn, the city’s director of planning and transportation, told the council that the property where the mosque hopes to set up the cemetery is currently zoned for medium-density residential development, Nunn nevertheless added that the city’s land use plan identifies this property and others around as an area with “high potential” for industrial development.
Nunn told the council that he and other city staff members believe the cemetery’s proposed site could be an integral part of a larger, industrial development in spite of arguments about its unsuitability as industrial land that Brown had shared with the city’s planning commission.
In response to Nunn’s assurances, Kathy Hykes, the city’s mayor pro tem, said that this particular request puts her “between a rock and a hard place.”
“I want to preserve industrial land,” she told the rest of the council. “However, this is a holy ground kind of issue…I’m struggling with this one.”
The council eventually threw the matter to Peter Bishop, the city’s economic development director, to discuss the property’s potential for industrial use. Bishop concurred with Nunn that the cemetery’s proposed site could be part of a larger industrial development – perhaps as an area that’s reserved for storm water control. Bishop conceded that this land may not accommodate an actual building, although he added that this wouldn’t necessarily negate its value as part of a larger industrial “assemblage.”
“The changes that the applicant has made to reduce the site and reduce its potential impact to other industrial uses are to be lauded,” he added, “and certainly would defray from some of those issues.”
Another swing at Shamrock
Burlington’s city council has also agreed to hold another hearing on February 16 about a potential change in the plans for a subdivision that a Greensboro developer has proposed on the 100-acre site of the former Shamrock Golf Course.
Paul Milam, the developer of this proposed subdivision, has asked the city’s leaders to tweak a conditional zoning request that the council approved in 2018 in order to increase the maximum number of homes he can construct on the grounds of the former golf course from 219 to 242 units. Milam has requested this increase notwithstanding the pushback his project originally received from the golf course’s neighbors, which eventually compelled him to accept the 219-dwelling limit in 2018.
The proposed increase in Milam’s housing allowance has received a nod from Burlington’s planning staff. Even so, the city’s planning and zoning commission declined to endorse the request when it considered the matter last month.
The commission’s members ultimately voted 4-to-2 not to recommend the request due, in part, to an ongoing legal battle with three neighboring residents, which has prevented the subdivision’s would-be developer from breaking ground on the project. The commission’s members were also reluctant to tamper with the subdivision’s original parameters, which had emerged from several months of heated negotiations with the rest of the former golf course’s neighbors.
Due to the commission’s negative recommendation, the subdivision’s developer had no automatic right to a hearing before Burlington’s city council. The council has been generally inclined to hear rezoning requests that fail to win over the planning commission if the applicants make formal appeals for the council’s consideration.
In this case, the council agreed to give its usual courtesy to the subdivision’s would-be developer when its members discussed the rezoning request at their latest monthly work session last Monday. The council nevertheless insisted that the developer or his representative come before them at their next regular meeting on the following night to make a formal request for a hearing. Meanwhile, councilman Jim Butler voiced some hesitance about actually approving the increased housing allowance after the hearing takes place.
“Obviously, this was pretty contentious before,” Butler recalled during the work session, “it took a lot of maneuvering and massaging to get it to where it was.”
During a council meeting last Tuesday night, Ryan Moffitt of the Vernon Law Firm appeared before the council to request a hearing for February 16. The council ultimately granted the attorney’s request, although not without some misgivings about the hearing’s proposed date.
Councilman Bob Ward, who served as Burlington’s city attorney before he joined the council, explicitly raised this concern when he and his colleagues heard Moffitt’s request.
“This is going to take some time; it’s going to be fairly involved,” Ward told the developer’s lawyer, “and we’ve got a couple of other things going on…If you say February 16 is what you’ve gotta have, I’m sure the council will consider it favorably. But I was thinking about a date in March.”
Moffitt insisted that his client is eager to proceed with the project as soon as possible. He added that Milam’s request only drew two public comments when it went before the city’s planning and zoning commission last week.
“For the sake of the length of the meeting,” he added referring to the council’s gathering on February 16, “I hope it will stay that way.”The council went on to give its unanimous approval to Moffitt’s requested date.