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Thursday, 08 October 2020 12:55

Richmond County Commissioners approve compromise on CSX rezoning request

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CSX Transportation offered a compromise to only develop the property on the north side of Marks Creek Church road if a zoning request were to be approved. The property on the south side will remain rural residential/agricultural. CSX Transportation offered a compromise to only develop the property on the north side of Marks Creek Church road if a zoning request were to be approved. The property on the south side will remain rural residential/agricultural. CSX

ROCKINGHAM — Part of a section of property on Marks Creek Church Road owned by CSX Transportation will be zoned for heavy industrial following a compromise offered by the railroad company.


The decision was made in a split vote Thursday morning by the Richmond County Board of Commissioners, with Commissioners Don Bryant and Jimmy Capps opposing and Commissioner Ben Moss abstaining since he is an employee of CSX.

Commissioners Rick Watkins, John Garner, Tavares Bostic and Kenneth Robinette all voted in favor of the compromise.

CSX offered the compromise following concerns from residents and members of Marks Creek Presbyterian Church read during a public hearing at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.

“... (W)e do feel the parcel directly adjacent to CSXT’s existing tracks, on the north side of Marks Church Road, as well as an additional parcel south of Marks Church Road and west of Chapel Lane, is well positioned for future development,” John Dillard, director of state government affairs for CSX, said in a letter to the commissioners. “However, the parcel south of Marks Church Road and east of Chapel Lane, due to its size and other factors, is less likely to be developed. We are amenable to that parcel remaining zoned Rural Residential/Agriculture, if that option would be more agreeable to all concerned.”

Prior to reading Dillard’s letter, County Planning Director Tracy Parris read letters from several other residents that echoed sentiments in previous letters, which included concerns about the impacts on the environment and nearby chicken houses, as well as increased traffic and noise.

Heather Knight Hudson even mentioned buying the land from CSX, if the company was willing to sell.

“Corporate greed should not be allowed or encouraged by the board, whose job is to look out for the best interests of the current and future residents,” she said.

Parris also read a letter from Economic Developer Martie Butler, who had advocated on behalf of the rezoning in a previous letter read on Tuesday.

“CSX has been one of our leading employers for the last 70 years,” Butler said. “Much of Richmond County was built upon the rail industry; many of our industries are here — simply because they require rail.

Butler said the property in question has been the subject of conversation since she started the position more than seven years ago.

“Upon realizing this was not zoned heavy industrial — CSX saw the need to rezone their remaining property to all heavy industrial,” Butler added.

She went on to say that the Planning and Zoning Board unanimously recommended the request, finding it to be consistent with the county’s land use plan.

Butler touched on several other points, including the potential for new jobs and investment.

 “We are a rural tier 1 community and getting new businesses to move to our community is not an easy task,” she said. “Jobs associated with (the) rail industry are some of the highest wages in our community.”

According to Butler, the entry level for most of those jobs is around $45,000 and can reach $100,000.

“Stifling the development of this prime industrial property (adjacent to the CSX rail yard) is counter intuitive to the goals this board has established,” she said.

Butler also addressed the concerns espoused by those who opposed the rezoning.

Any growth or development would be under “strict” scrutiny by the county, state and federal governments, she said, citing “numerous regulations, restrictions and set-backs in place to ensure any local residents would not be (affected) or harmed.”

“We appreciate the concern of the 10-15 adjacent residents that live in the area and naturally understand their feelings,” Butler said. “The ‘what-ifs’ or the unknown is very concerning to anyone. This site is adjacent to a highly utilized rail yard and multiple chicken houses. The presence of odor and loud noise already exist at this site.”

Butler also said that with industrial growth on the site, she would be able to access infrastructure funding to extend the county’s water service to the site and to 10 surrounding homes and eight chicken houses.

Residents in the area are currently on well systems because it has not been economically feasible for the county to extend service there.

“One of the letters stated they had been asking for water in that community for many decades,” Butler said. “In this situation any potential growth could be a positive for all parties involved.”

Bostic, who said he spoke with a family and was given a tour between the two meetings, said the board was put in a “little bit of a weird spot” to not disregard the issues presented by rezoning opponents while keeping the board’s dedication to bringing more jobs into the county.

During Tuesday’s meeting Bostic had wondered if a compromise could be met to protect the interests of the residents and CSX.

Moss, in announcing that he would recuse himself from the vote, said that he understood the concerns of the residents, “but this land is a perfect opportunity for us to increase our industrial growth for this county.”

“We do have the potential there to bring some industry to this area we need,” Moss said. “We’re tired of being a Tier 1 poor county, and we’ve got to have jobs to get out of that rut.”

Taking everything into consideration, Garner said he saw the compromise as a “win-win for everybody involved.”

Before making the zoning decision, the board voted to approve the application for a $900,000 community development block grant to provide subsistence payments to those low- and middle-income households who are facing eviction or utility disconnection due to effects of COVID-19.

 

William R. Toler

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