Planning commission endorses residential rezoning near airport, 4-3, over staff objection

Burlington’s planning and zoning commission has endorsed a rezoning request that would allow a Burlington native to build a home next to the site of his childhood home along Hatchery Road, where his son now lives.

The commission’s members ultimately voted 4-to-3 to endorse this request, which Ryan Moffitt, an attorney with Burlington’s Vernon Law Firm, presented on Monday on behalf of J. Patrick Harman.

Moffitt told the planning commission that Harman’s family has owned the land along Hatchery Road since his father purchased it in 1940. The attorney noted that the 2.2 acres up for rezoning are part of a larger lot which had been the site of Harman’s childhood home. He added that Harman now wants the city to rezone this vacant tract from industrial to low-density residential use so he can move back to the area where he had been raised.

“Mr. Harman would like to build a home on this property,” Moffit explained. “He grew up on this property…His son currently lives there, and [the elder Harman] would like to return there to enjoy the remainder of his retirement.”

The city’s planning staff had urged the planning commission not to endorse this request based on its incompatibility with Burlington’s comprehensive land-use plan, which has identified the site as a prime spot for industrial development.

The staff’s deference to the land-use plan in this particular case mirrored its objections a month earlier when it encouraged the planning commission not to endorse a Muslim cemetery along Hanford Road. The staff had objected to the proposed cemetery on the grounds that the land use plan recommends the property for industrial use. The planning commission, for its part, deadlocked in its decision to endorse the proposed cemetery, which is currently scheduled to go before Burlington’s city council on March 16.

In the case of the Hatchery Road property, Joey Lea, the city’s zoning and subdivision administrator, enunciated Moffitt’s point that the land has been attached to a homestead for decades. The attorney stressed that no entity other than the Burlington Alamance Airport has expressed any interest in this site’s potential industrial use. He added that even if Harman is allowed to build a home on this property, it wouldn’t make the surrounding area any less suitable for industrial development.

“This is one of the simplest, lowest-impact, and least-obtrusive zoning designations,” he told the planning commission. “We can rest easy knowing that standalone home sites have coexisted harmoniously with industrial usage.”

The commission’s vice chairman John Black underscored the potential value of this property to the Burlington-Alamance Airport. Moffitt conceded that he has discussed this matter with Dan Danieley, the executive director of the airport’s governing authority, who he said expressed some “interest in the property.”

Danieley himself phoned into the commission’s meeting in order to clarify the nature of the authority’s interest in this land. The authority’s executive director acknowledged that this interest doesn’t entail any actual development on the acreage in question. But he conceded that the authority may want to limit the height of any structures on the property in preparation for an eventual extension of the airport’s runway.

“We are within about 12 months of approaching land owners for ‘avigation’ easements,” Danieley went on to explain, “which basically is a right of way and the landowner wouldn’t build anything above a certain height.”

In the meantime, Moffitt said that his client has no illusions about the changes that may be in store for this area once the airport’s plans get off the ground.

“But Mr. Harman wants to make a relatively innocent use of it until that time,” the attorney added, “and it should not disrupt the city’s greater plans.”

Harman’s request also drew some words of support from Rich Mossman, who identified himself as a representative of the owner of neighboring property where the city has likewise pushed industrial use contrary to the landowners preference for residential development.

Bill Abplanalp made a motion to endorse Harman’s request to Burlington’s city council. Abplanalp’s motion was supported by the commission’s chairman Richard Parker and fellow members Earl Jaggers and Ryan Kirk. The commission’s vice chairman John Black voted against the motion along with members James Kirkpatrick and Nancy Rosborough.

See other planning commission recommendations from Feb. 22 meeting:

Planning commission recommends 205 (more) apartments along St. Mark’s Church Road:

Planning commission recommends office rezoning near ARMC: