Scott Mill was item 10 at the Board of County Commissioners meeting earlier this evening, and it came up a little before 8pm (the agenda is online at www.durhamcountync.gov/departments/bocc/Agendas/Current_Meeting_Agen.html). The opponents filled an entire row on the left side of the room, and a few other seats, with more than half as many people as the developers. Commissioner Lewis Cheek was absent. This was a substantive hearing and the discussion was pretty sharp at points, and the political plays were clear.
The hearing began with a summary of the Commissioners' past decisions in the rezoning request, that it was continued (meaning delayed, I think) twice, etc. A man from the City-County Planning Department spoke. I think the basic point was that the plan as submitted for this meeting violates the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), so the Commissioners could not approve the plan legally (if they did, they would likely lose a resulting lawsuit). One problem was that the plan is inconsistent, for example on a buffer required for a wetland on the site. I think there was a second, similar problem. Commissioner Rev. Philip Cousin asked if this inconsistency was the only problem, implying that these are just technicalities that could be ignored. Then or later the County Attorney mentioned a judge who said technicalities are the law.
Bill Ripley spoke early on, trying to make a Powerpoint presentation, and argued that the committed elements agreed with the neighbors remained. There would be only 71 houses, with a 12' separation between them, more open space, a tapered eastern buffer strip, open space on the south side, undisturbed except for a trail and any necessary infrastructure, 46% less traffic, 50% fewer students, etc. Several people yielded on each side to allow the main people to speak for more than 2 minutes.
Speaking next was a woman from the IUKA company, which is the actual owner of much of the property (I think 37 acres out of a little over 44 acres). She said that IUKA had held that land for 40 years and already lost over half to the Army Corps of Engineers, which she seemed to count as environmental protection having been given its share. She said the neighbors had never contacted IUKA to discuss their concerns.
Next a member of the Durham People's Alliance spoke, since the PA voted to oppose Scott Mill for its environmental and process problems, last Thursday.
The Headwaters branch of the Sierra Club also had a speaker against the rezoning. Then three members of Northeast Creek Stream Watch ( www.necreek.org) spoke strongly (but not officially, though the group did send out an official letter of opposition). The President of the Lyon's Farm homeowners' association spoke, and I think said the residents were offended by how this rezoning has been pushed. The leader of the neighborhood opposition, Carol Young, from Lake Park, outlined the arguments against. She pointed out conflicting house separation figures, the lack of response from Ripley on requests for Scott King Rd. buffer opacity figures and the restrictive covenant covering noise, and she said the Sheriffs Department is not able to enforce community rules like that. I think she was the one who said IUKA was not available for dialogue, and she or someone else said it should be up to the applicant for rezoning to contact the community.
Several more people spoke for and against. Ripley's negotiator said the committed elements were still in effect and that the problem was just a return of distrust. A longtime resident and watcher of development said Ripley had promised one thing after half a Sunday of discussion with her about a development in a key part of the New Hope Creek lands, but the next day submitted a different plan. I think she is the speaker who said this was the worst case she has seen in 40 years. Another important opponent, Liz Pullman, spoke and rebutted the negotiator's argument. Someone called the proponents land speculators, whom the BOCC does not need to coddle (later Cousin or Page said the proponents were not speculators, because they have owned the land for so long). By this point people were calling Ripley out as a bad developer.
After these comments, the Commissioners began deliberating. Cousin started by asking for definitions. The thrust of his question about inventory sites was whether landowners, who are not informed that a survey is being done, could challenge it (apparently they can). He said he is not against having surveys, but consider how he voted and his comments, which ignored the inventory and favored the rezoning. He cast this case as "a tragedy of miscommunication and lack of communication" and said "this is about to take my first prize" as a trainwreck of a case. Commissioner Rev. Michael Page said he found the case very confusing, but as the meeting went on he came out more in favor of the rezoning. I think he and Cousin did not see why this case was so drawn out. Ripley was asked to clarify points, and argued that the inconsistencies were an attempt to be helpful or honest, for example by not submitting a new plan. Then there were questions that opponents could answer. Chairwoman Ellen Reckhow wanted to ask the opponents, and the audience was saying to call on Liz Pullman and Carol Young. Page wanted to postpone the decision again, which I think was an attempt to help Ripley by giving him another chance and it would possibly weaken the opposition by dragging the process out further. Carol Young said no to this from the audience and Page said he would not return her phone calls because she is rude (I think he specifically said "I, Michael Page, won't return your phone calls, because you are rude, Mrs. Young")!
Both Cousin and Page were focused on the development side and only explicitly said they were sorry to disappoint the landowners. Page especially said both sides were at fault. Reckhow and Commissioner Heron were on the anti-rezoning side, but went out of their way to say development could happen responsibly, but recommended that the owners get a different developer (I think Heron said it first). Eventually all of the Commissioners (but the absent Cheek, of course), said this. I hope this is not seen as a promise to approve a development. A better development is possible, but whatever is proposed, it will have a negative impact on parts of the environment, so we shouldn't be greenwashing it.
None of the Commissioners would make a motion, so there was a ten-minute recess, to the astonishment and irritation of many. After the break Heron and Reckhow motioned for approval. I think the order was, voting to approve: Cousin and Page; then, voting against: Reckhow and Heron. A tie means the rezoning request is denied, but under the UDO, a rezoning request can be made again immediately, instead of after 12 months. The opponents clapped. This was around 9:30, instead of the 40 minutes allotted in the agenda, and the public part of the meeting went on until around 9:45.
After most of the audience had left, Cousin and Page again said how sorry they were for the landowners.
There are obvious divisions in this case. The vote was divided by race, sex, and party. The opponents were all or mostly white, against a black-owned company (Ripley and his associates are white though). This could be seen as a racial problem, and Page or Cousin implied this strongly in their last remarks. Progressive people need to try to ease racial/ethnic tensions, but this is also probably a case of race being used to cover over class issues. There are the black landowners (who don't live on the property), the all or mostly white middlemen, and the all or mostly white suburban neighborhood opposition. It is complicated, with the middlemen possibly using the landowners, but it is still developers and seemingly absentee landowners against neighbors, who are probably mostly working class, though probably mostly white collar. There were longtime residents on each side I think.
Some other items:
Before Scott Mill, there was the issue of whether undocumented immigrants will be paid by the City to work on housing projects. I think Victoria Peterson brought this up. I think this is an attempt to divide the working class on ethnic lines, though it would be preferable if business would hire Durham residents and increase the employment rate. It also probably would violate the City's immigration neutrality resolution to make this distinction.
The other two rezoning cases after the Scott Mill item were postponed. The last item then was a tax on land transfers. Peterson also spoke against this, and there were at most four guests left in the meeting. I wondered if this is a case like the opposition to the estate tax, which argues that workers and family farmers are hurt by it, while it most affects the rich, and is a progressive tax.
More to come.
Scott Mill rezoning agenda summary:
The Board is requested to deny a request for a zoning map change for 44.336 acre site located on the south side of Scott King Road, east of Herndon Road and west of Grandale Drive. PINs 0727-03-33-0274, -3487, -5136, and -6917. Request: RR; F/J-B to PDR 1.680; F/J-B
This case was opened and continued at the June 26, 2006 Board of Commissioners meeting and continued again at the August 28, 2006 Commissioners meeting. The public hearing for this case was closed at the September 25, 2006 Commissioners meeting as a result of proposed changes to the development plan that required review by the Planning Commission. Staff was directed to re-review the item as a result of the proposed changes and process it accordingly. The applicant subsequently has withdrawn the changes proposed at the September 25 th meeting in order to avoid returning to the Planning Commission and refused to make the changes required for the development plan to meet ordinance requirements, asking that the case go directly to the Board of Commissioners.
To adopt as support for its action on the proposed zoning map change the determinations that, notwithstanding its consistency with the Comprehensive Plan, the request is neither reasonable nor in the public interest in light of information presented in the public hearing and in the agenda materials.
Alternatively, in the event that a motion to deny the item fails, the Commissioners adopt as support for their actions on the proposed zoning map change the determination that the action is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and is reasonable and in the public interest in light of information presented in the public hearing and in the accompanying agenda materials.
Staff Recommendation: Denial, based on the development plan not meeting minimum ordinance standards including 1) failure to show an appropriate buffer around "Wetlands Area 'A'" on sheet D-1 and 2) internal inconsistencies with the committed elements #4, #5b, and #5c not reflected sheet D-2.
Planning Commission Recommendation and Vote: Denial, 12-0 on April 11, 2006. The Planning Commission finds that the requested revision to the zoning districts of the UDO is consistent with the adopted Comprehensive Plan. The commission recommends that the request be denied based on finding that the project will adversely impact sensitive environmental areas, that there is significant opposition from the surrounding community, that the density of the project is inconsistent with the neighboring land uses and densities, and considering the information in the staff report and comments received during the public hearing.
Resource Person(s): Frank M. Duke, AICP, City-County Planning Director
County Manager's Recommendation : The Manager recommends that the Board conduct a public hearing on the proposed zoning map change and deny it, if appropriate, based on the comments received.