A mass of people converged on the City Hall Auditorium to oppose three separate proposals for mining operations, spilling outside the building to hear the matters be continued until next month.
The Sampson Planning Board was set to consider three special use permit requests for sand and gravel mining operations on High House, Five Bridge and Fleet Naylor roads. The requests from Drafting and Design Services, Inc. to establish operations at the properties owned by Emerald Sod, LLC and Belvoir Sod, LLC were continued by a 4-1 vote after the board heard from attorneys on both sides.
Attorney Clifton Hester, representing a large group in opposition, requested more time to review the matter.
“We’re asking for these matters to be continued,” said Hester. “We believe the issues that are going to be decided by the board are matters that require substantial expert testimony. They have had experts they obtained long ago to come before this board. We’ve had about two weeks.”
Hester said the issues of health and safety are critical, as well as the potential adverse effects on property values, all of which require expert testimony.
“We haven’t had time to find out what the answer is,” he said. “I’m asking that all three of these mine cases be continued so that we will have an opportunity to address those issues. They are matters that are fundamental to the decision you are going to make. Equity requires that both sides be given the same opportunity. We will not have that opportunity if you move forward with these cases tonight.”
Attorney Andrew Jackson, representing the applicant, said he believed “ample time” was had already and urged the board to move forward with hearing the cases.
“Ample time has been had by all to engage whatever attorney, appraisers and experts were needed to be heard here,” said Jackson. “Kicking the can down the road just serves as a means to delay. The issue about the values of adjoining property — we have appraisers here, including Tom Keith of Fayetteville, who can testify that he was contacted by Mr. Hester’s clients prior to us and thought be might be engaged and we actually engaged him. They’ve been out in the same circles looking at the same folks we have. Maybe they didn’t like the answers they were getting.”
Jackson said continuing the matter would cost more money to the applicant and serve only to delay the issue. Planning Board chairman Scott Brown asked the board for a motion one way or the other.
“I think two weeks is short for something of this magnitude,” Board member Gary Mac Herring remarked. “The applicant has had ample time to prepare the last few months. I think we need to at least give (the opposition group) another month.”
Board member Debra Bass said she also felt more time should be allowed. Brown took issue with that, referencing Jackson’s comments.
“I don’t think the opposition, from what Mr. Jackson is saying, is just getting started,” Brown noted. “It sounds like they got a pretty good jump-start with everybody in the room tonight.”
During July’s Sampson County Planning Board meeting, numerous adjacent landowners shared their concerns of declining property values, adverse health effects, increased noise and traffic and declining water quality they felt would result from the mining operations. Many echoed those comments at an August community meeting, which was held a day before the request was originally withdrawn. Last month, applications were re-submitted. All property on which the operations are proposed is owned by County Commissioner Clark Wooten.
“They did get a good jump-start,” Herring conceded, “but in all fairness, (the applicant) pulled back so maybe they slowed down.”
For a special use permit to be granted, the Planning Board must find that the use meets four standards, including those of safety and required specifications, and that the use will not substantially injure property values and is in harmony with the area. Jackson said it was up to the board to make a decision.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” the attorney asserted. “Whether it’s today, tomorrow or a month from now, the subject matter is the same. It’s a matter of folks testifying, having their say and the board deciding.”
Herring made a motion to continue the matters, quickly seconded by Bass. Brown offered a rebuttal.
“I don’t know why this particular case would be any different than any other case for a special use permit,” the board chairman stated. “We’ve heard from staff and staff met notification requirements. The law is there for a reason, the notification is there for a reason and I think ample notice was given. It would be my belief that we move forward. I cannot support the motion.”
The vote came 4-1, with Nancy Blackman and Gary Henry joining Herring and Bass, and Brown casting the lone dissenting vote to the motion for a continuance. The same 4-1 vote came for all three requests.
The permit requests will be heard at the Planning Board’s next meeting, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16, at City Hall.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.