A request by a Sampson County resident to put a billboard on his property, while recommended for denial by the county’s Planning Board, was met with unanimous approval by the Sampson County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioners earlier this week approved the request by Hubbard Sutton to rezone approximately 4.6 acres located along Boyette Road and I-40 from RA-Residential Agriculture to C-Commercial. The property is located along I-40 and has access to Boyette Road. All of the surrounding adjoining properties are zoned RA-Residential Agriculture.
First, the matter came to the Planning Board, which determined that the request was not consistent with the goals and objectives of the Sampson County Land Use Plan, due to the fact the 4.6 acres was not located in close proximity to a major thoroughfare. In the county’s plan, economic growth and commercial activities are encouraged at locations with access to major thoroughfares such as I-40, however in Sutton’s case that access is about 2.5 miles from his property, planning officials noted. It is also a considerable distance — about 2,500 feet — from Boyette Road.
A motion was made to recommend denial of the request to the Sampson Board of Commissioners. That vote came 5-1.
Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose brought the matter to commissioners on Monday.
“Not many rezonings come before this board that have not been recommended,” noted Commissioner Albert Kirby.
Rose said that the recommendation on the request, in favor or not, did not preclude the governing board receiving that recommendation — the Board of Commissioners — from acting in a different manner.
“They are not bound by the Planning Board,” she said.
Following the meeting, Rose noted that, in her 13 years with the department, she did not recall one instance in which the Planning Board did not recommend a rezoning request.
She explained that no one was at fault, but rather doing their own due diligence within the scope of their duties. The Planning Board must use the Sampson County Land Use Plan as their guide, and are not to take liberties with the language stated within it. The Board of Commissioners receive the Planning Board’s recommendation and can do as it wishes.
“The Planning Board didn’t do anything wrong, but at the same time the commissioners didn’t either,” Rose stated. “North Carolina General Statutes require the Planning Board to use the county land use plan to make recommendations. They are an advisory board. That land use plan states that commercial property should be close to major thoroughfares and have access to them.”
In this particular case of “spot zoning,” she said the strip of land does not currently have access, nor will it ever have access, to I-40.
“It’s just so far off the beaten path,” said Rose, noting such billboard requests on I-40 are not a common occurrence. “You want your commercial activities closest to where you can gain access to those activities. This was just a little different.”
When I-40 came through Sampson, Sutton said about 40 acres of land was taken during the DOT’s right-of-way acquisition.
“I guess that was in the name of progress,” Sutton said. “For this plot, it is our desire to put billboards on it. The precedent has been set. If you go a little bit south and west, there are billboards that fit the criteria of what is being presented to you tonight. They were just put up recently.”
Kirby said he understood what the Planning Board had to do, but did not see the problem with approving the request.
“If the purpose is a billboard, you wouldn’t need access,” Kirby said simply. “He wants to put it right on the interstate, and it seems to me that is one of the only commercial uses you can have on that piece of property.”
Kirby made the motion and the rezoning was unanimously approved, 4-0.
The request will still have to go to the N.C. Department of Transportation, which will not issue an outdoor advertising permit unless the property is zoned commercial. The county, under its ordinance, actually does allow billboards on properties zoned RA-Residential Agriculture, but DOT overrides that with beautification provisions included in the Federal Highway Act.
The goal of that act was to keep highways beautiful, so natural scenery can be enjoyed and roadsides are not overtaken by advertisements, leading to the federal red tape.
“It doesn’t matter that we allow billboards in RA districts,” said Rose. “They still need an outdoor advertising permit, and DOT requires those properties to be zoned commercial.”
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