Next meeting is tonight, by a subcommittee focusing on Snow Camp zoning; it will be an open meeting
A proposed zoning ordinance that has been two years in the making has set off a volcanic reaction from many residents of Snow Camp, who were apparently unaware of this plan’s implications until its recent debut before Alamance County’s planning board.
Over the past several weeks, the proposal’s critics have repeatedly converged on the county’s headquarters in Graham to prevent these land-use restrictions from being imposed on their rural, unincorporated community in the county’s southwestern reaches.
Their protests have, moreover, prompted the planning board to refer the rules back to a subcommittee which crafted them in order to address some of the community’s concerns.
This three-member zoning ordinance subcommittee is scheduled to take up this task at a special-called meeting on Thursday night. Thanks to this newspaper’s intervention, this meeting will be open to the general public in compliance with the state’s Open Meeting’s Law – an assertion that couldn’t be made of the subcommittee’s previous powwows.
It remains to be seen what impact the public’s presence will have on the subcommittee’s proceedings, which are slated to begin at 7:00 p.m. in the meeting chambers on the second floor of the county’s headquarters at 124 West Elm Street in Graham.
Yet, for all of the upheaval it’s caused, the outcry against the proposed zoning ordinance is actually a good thing, according to Tonya Caddle, the county’s planning director.
Caddle contends that a vigorous response for the community was precisely what she and her colleagues intended when they mailed out notices to every property owner in the Snow Camp area shortly before Christmas.
“It was a shock for a lot of them,” she said in an interview Tuesday, “and we did that purposefully to make sure they knew what was going on.”
The county’s planning department may nevertheless have gotten more than it bargained for when the planning board was forced to confront the results of the mass mailing.
On the night of January 13, the county’s meeting chambers were packed with Snow Camp residents as the planning board convened a regularly-scheduled meeting that featured the proposed zoning ordinance on its agenda.
About 15 of board’s audience members went on to share their concerns with the ordinance during an hour-long public comment period that kicked off that evening’s three-hour gathering.
Toward the end of that night’s proceedings, the planning board considered a motion to throw out the proposed ordinance – a gambit that ultimately failed by a margin of one vote.
The board’s members didn’t get much further in their deliberations before they resolved to recess their meeting and reconvene a week later.
The board resumed its discussion on the night of January 19 – this time, to an even larger audience that required the use of an overflow room to accommodate the crowd of residents.
According to the fire marshal’s office, 75 people had passed through the door that evening – and about 15 of them weighed in on the ordinance when the planning board opened the floor to public comments.
The speakers who addressed the planning board on the 19th included several individuals who support tighter restrictions on land use in Snow Camp. Some of these zoning proponents were also part of a grassroots movement that tried, unsuccessfully, to get the county to revoke a permit that it had issued for a rock quarry in 2018.
The quarry’s opponents were ultimately the driving force behind the development of a zoning plan for the Snow Camp area, and a number of them were intimately involved in the plan’s composition.
“I heard that, in that meeting, 15 people spoke for an entire community. There’s a petition on Change.org that 263 people have signed against heavy use industry in Snow Camp…and this [proposed zoning] ordinance will start the process to address this threat to our beautiful and rural farming community.” – Linda Lee
“I would’ve sworn and bet money that a lawyer from San Francisco wrote this. I’m actually ashamed of Ms. Caddle if she was the one who asked for this.”
“If you want to build a new house, you’ve got to plant a certain size tree with a certain size canopy in the front yard – and the back yard. That’s not Southern Alamance – the home of the free. This is crazy…This is so far left, it’s not gonna fly.” – Mike Owens
The call for new rules to curb heavy industry was reiterated by residents like Linda Lee, who was the first to address the planning board during the public comment period on the 19th. Lee assured that the planning board’s members that they got an imbalanced view from the zoning opponents who had approached them at their previous gathering.
“I heard that, in that meeting, 15 people spoke for an entire community,” she added. “There’s a petition on Change.org that 263 people have signed against heavy use industry in Snow Camp…and this [proposed zoning] ordinance will start the process to address this threat to our beautiful and rural farming community.”
Meanwhile, Mike Owens, a vocal opponent of zoning, delivered an impassioned speech to the planning board that took direct aim at the county’s planning director for her apparent role in the proposal.
“I would’ve sworn and bet money that a lawyer from San Francisco wrote this,” Owens said during his allotted three minutes at the podium. “I’m actually ashamed of Ms. Caddle if she was the one who asked for this.”
Owen went on to decry some specific provisions within the plan that he felt smacked of regulatory excess.
“If you want to build a new house, you’ve got to plant a certain size tree with a certain size canopy in the front yard – and the back yard,” he exclaimed. “That’s not Southern Alamance – the home of the free. This is crazy…This is so far left, it’s not gonna fly.”
The planning board also heard some misgivings about the proposed ordinance from Jane Majors.
“What this does, in my opinion,” she told the group, “is to try to squash our local character and way of life and make us a carbon copy of a town in an attempt to standardize us into somebody else’s perceived notion of what we should be.”
Majors also found fault with some of the proposal’s particulars, including one provision that seems to allow a landowner to parcel off no more than two lots from a larger tract that he or she intends to share out among family members.
“I have a strong objection to anyone telling me how I should divide or bequeath my land,” Majors went on to declare. “If you’ve got a 100 acres, and you’ve got five children and grandchildren, you can only give two of them some of your land no matter how much you’ve got.”
According to Caddle, Majors and other critics of this particular provision have misunderstood what the proposed rule is actually intended to do.
She points out that, under the proposed zoning ordinance, the limits on gifts and bequests would only apply when a landowner wants to subdivide property into smaller lots than the county’s existing subdivision ordinance permits. The proposed regulation is, in other words, a loophole for people who want to get around a rule that’s already on the books.
“There were a lot of misconceptions. They were picking out sections of the ordinance without reading the whole thing.
“It’s very clear here that you have two sides – one side wants everything touched and restricted and the other side wants to be left alone.”
– Alamance County planning director Tonya Caddle
Caddle insists that this subdivision limit is merely one of several recommendations that have been misconstrued by the residents who’ve spoken out in opposition to zoning.
“There were a lot of misconceptions,” she said. “They were picking out sections of the ordinance without reading the whole thing.”
The county’s planning director is nevertheless emphatic that the planning board still needs to hear this sort of feedback before it decides whether or not to endorse the zoning proposal to the county’s board of commissioners.
Caddle also noted that these contrary views will provide the members of the zoning ordinance subcommittee with fodder for their discussion at Thursday’s special-called meeting.
In either case, Caddle insisted that inclusion of opposing opinions is precisely what a good public planner should strive to achieve.
“You need to reach out and get all sides,” she added. “and it’s very clear here that you have two sides – one side wants everything touched and restricted and the other side wants to be left alone.”