- Allen Turner
Rezoning vote close on asphalt plant request
Columbus County commissioners voted 4-3 Monday night June 18 to rezone land off Georgia Pacific Road to permit an asphalt plant on the property. Chairman Amon McKenzie cast the deciding vote in favor of rezoning the property, owned by Dial and Betty Gray. Barnhill Construction Co. will open the asphalt plant.
Commissioners McKenzie, Ricky Bullard, Trent Burroughs and Giles E. “Buddy” Byrd voted to rezone the property. Voting “no” were Charles McDowell, James Prevatte and Edwin Russ.
The question before the board was whether to rezone the property from general use/light industrial to heavy industrial. Although an asphalt plant had operated on the site in the 1980s, it apparently had been permitted in error and heavy industrial zoning actually is required.
During a public hearing held prior to the commissioners’ meeting, six citizens spoke in opposition to the rezoning while three, including Gray and two representatives of Barnhill Construction, advocated for the rezoning.
Gray, a former county commissioner and a former mayor of Whiteville, told commissioners that several years ago the commissioners had already voted to rezone the property when it enacted the county’s land use plan. “You’ve voted on it once and I ask you to vote on it again,” he said, prompting McKenzie and Prevatte to reply that the approval of the land use plan had not been tantamount to approval of the requested zoning.
When Gray attempted to cast aspersions on an adjoining property owner, McKenzie ruled that his remarks were out of order. “I’ve been accused of being a bad neighbor,” Gray said. “Well, I want to tell you about my neighbor…” McKenzie shut down that argument: “We want to talk about your project. We don’t want to talk about your neighbor.”
Derrick Strickland, representing Barnhill Construction Co., spoke to commissioners two weeks ago and said Monday night that “nothing has changed from the last time we spoke.” He thanked the board for scheduling the matter for discussion and added, “I forgot to tell you two weeks ago that our product is 100 percent recyclable.”
Gordon Rose of Draper Arden Associates, a consulting engineering firm that has been retained by Barnhill Construction, told commissioners, “A single asphalt plant gives off in one year about the same amount of volatile organic compounds as two residential fireplaces.” He added that the N.C. Dept. of Natural and Economic Resources has said asphalt plants must show they can meet air quality guidelines at their property lines. “This means that nearby property owners would not be exposed to unhealth levels of air pollution, even if they live next door,” he said.
Rose concluded, “The property is currently zoned commercial and this development will be in compliance with the Columbus County Land Use Plan. The site was previously used as an asphalt plant, adequate buffers will remain, and we will meet the requirements of current state regulations to protect adjoining properties.”
Tally Bowen, who lives in the neighborhood, was short in his remarks opposing the rezoning. “We don’t want the rezoning to go through,” Bowen said. “There are a lot worse things than an asphalt plant that could come after that.”
Catherine Gerald, who said she lives around the corner from the proposed plant site, expressed concern about the future. “I worry about our drinking water, our ponds, the air pollution, the traffic. I’m very concerned about increased traffic. We have to worry about the children in the neighborhood and their safety,” she said. “It’s peaceful and quiet now, and we want to keep it peaceful and quiet.”
Neighborhood resident Jessica Davis said she is concerned that an asphalt plant would be a problem for a community that is growing in population. “It was stated that the site was chosen because it is low population,” she said, “but we are growing and we’re looking out for our future and our children’s futures. We have a very good community.”
Linda Jablonowski, a member of the Columbus County planning board, presented a petition containing the signatures of 225 neighborhood residents opposed to the rezoning. “I remember the asphalt plant that was there in the 1980s,” she said. “There was always noise and there was always congestion on the road. The plant disturbed people’s sleep and you could smell the plant 24 hours a day seven days a week. We’re not against progress, but there’s an industrial park right down the road where it could go, but instead they want to put it between two houses in front of a cemetery.”
Donald Bowen was succinct in agreeing with Jablonowski: “You’ve got the industrial park already set up for this type of industry. Let them locate there.”
Ray Lloyd said, “We have noticed heavy vehicles coming down these roads, and the roads are already starting to break up. I am almost certain the roads in our communities were not built to support the heavy equipment and heavy trucks that this asphalt plant would incur. We need a long range effort to make this a healthy and fun place to live. I don’t want to see this kind of industry in my neighborhood.”