Rezoning request yields concern, split vote

By: By Chris Berendt -

Rezoning requests totaling about 50 acres off Clive Jacobs Road were met with opposition and a split vote at the recent Sampson Board of Commissioners meeting, with questions surrounding industry that may potentially locate at the site.

Planning staff approved separate requests to rezone approximately 31.62 acres and another tract of approximately 20.09 acres, both located off Clive Jacobs Road, from RA-Residential Agriculture to I-Industrial. The Board of Commissioners followed suit, but by a 3-2 vote on both matters.

“There are no industry prospects at this point,” said Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose, speaking to the requests leading up to the vote.

John Swope, executive director of the Sampson County Economic Development Commission, was not in attendance at the meeting but offered a statement noting that potential prospects request industrial zoning be in place when considering locations. There is limited amount of land in Sampson currently available, making the rezoning that much more important, he noted.

“This is the only area in Sampson County that has highway, water, sewer, natural gas, electric and railroad infrastructure in place that can serve industry requirements. The Robinson and Fryar properties have these services within 3,700 feet or less,” Swope noted. “Utilizing this area for industrial purposes is a publicly responsible action because it supports industry development with a minimum of public dollars required for infrastructure development.”

The properties share a common boundary of approximately 780 feet and combined these parcels could offer a prospect a site of up to 50 acres. An additional 124 acres could be added — spillover from the Chemtex site — making a site of 174 acres that is prime for economic growth.

“The N.C. 24 corridor and properties in close proximity to N.C. 24 are prime for industrial growth due to the availability of public water, sewer and natural gas,” Swope stated, relayed by Rose to the board.

Commissioner Albert Kirby asked whether the site was being rezoned for Michigan-based NOVI Energy, which in April 2014 withdrew its request to locate an anaerobic digester plant on a 40-acre tract in the Sampson Southeast Business Center in Clinton. Kirby recalled “vociferous” opposition to the digester by city residents and said he wanted to head off any perception of “environmental racism” — placement of low-income or minority communities in proximity of an industry that is not well-received or is perceived as damaging — before it could begin.

He said “never in a thousand years” did he think county staff would act in such a way, but wanted to make his concerns known. Kirby, one of a small group of people who visited Michigan in early 2014, said he did not see “anything wrong” with NOVI, but said his constituents have voiced their unease about a similar request being made in their neighborhoods.

“Nothing has been brought to my attention concerning prospects,” Rose said. She said no one spoke in opposition at a recent Planning Board meeting about the proposed rezoning, which that board unanimously approved.

Kirby said he could not vote for the rezoning measure if he did not know what the specific purpose was for, or a targeted industry. He asked County manager Ed Causey what he heard about NOVI’s intentions.

“They’ve looked at a number of sites,” said Causey. “They have been looking at some of the rural sites as they could not go into the industrial park here.”

Swope did not mention NOVI in his documents and nothing specific was detailed in the rezoning request.

“It appears to be in my area,” the commissioner stated. “I have gotten calls and I just hear things on the street. I’m not going to stand in the way, I just don’t feel comfortable voting until I know more.”

Chairman Billy Lockamy made a motion to approve the rezoning, quickly seconded by Sue Lee. Commissioner Clark Wooten was the third vote for a 3-2 split vote on both Clive Jacobs Road rezonings, Kirby and Commissioner Harry Parker on the other side.

NOVI’s previously proposed 4.3-megawatt power plant in Clinton was to digest organic waste — specifically hog waste — into bio-methane, fueling engine-generators to produce renewable energy, similar to a 3-megawatt plant in Fremont, Mich. That Michigan plant is the nation’s first anaerobic digester.

While NOVI ultimately decided to withdraw its request “after careful consideration of many factors and speaking with local residents and decision makers,” officials did express their intent to explore an alternate location for a plant in eastern North Carolina, specifically in Sampson and Duplin for close access to hog waste.

“My concern is what I perceive may happen down the road,” said Kirby, who alluded to the lack of people in opposition noted by Rose.

All adjacent property owners were notified, but Kirby said the rezoning request had not yet been met by opposition, likely because of its general nature. He alluded to mining requests that have brought about community meetings at McGee United Methodist Church.

“They didn’t see this coming. They didn’t organize at a church about this. There’s not a lot of people here to talk about it. At least this way, I have a good out (voting against it),” Kirby said jokingly. “I’m heading this off at the pass.”

Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.

By Chris Berendt

Commissioner Albert Kirby, left, expresses uneasiness about a rezoning request on Clive Jacobs Road, as chairman Billy Lockamy listens. Albert Kirby, left, expresses uneasiness about a rezoning request on Clive Jacobs Road, as chairman Billy Lockamy listens.

Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.