Starting a little more than a week ago development commenced on four acres of land at the corner of Dunn and Falls of Neuse roads. It saddens and angers me to see so many trees cut down and the land nearly clear cut as happened recently in Wakefield to make way for a gas station.
In 2015 former Councilor, John Odom, voted in one of his last acts to rezone the property to what is called neighborhood mixed use zoning that allows commercial development. This rezoning was part of a larger city-wide rezoning to convert to new zoning districts under the newly adopted Unified Development Ordinance. Many of us fought this effort but lost to pro-development members of Council such as Odom, Nancy McFarlane, Wayne Maiorano, Bonner Gaylord, and Mary-Ann Baldwin.
Not having members of Council willing to represent us and protect neighborhoods from the kind of clear cutting happening now is the main reason I ran for Council in 2015 and defeated John Odom. Despite my election win, those of us who wanted to protect neighborhoods were still in the minority on Council.
Sadly, a new owner purchased the Dunn road property and challenged the one thing that could have prevented today’s clear-cutting – a requirement to preserve 40% of the property as forest. The new owner challenged this requirement at the Board of Adjustment and won a 100% variance allowing him to preserve none of the required 40%.
Council could have challenged this decision. However, there was a limited window of time in which Council could legally do so. Without the votes on Council to move forward, that window of opportunity closed.
And, today, the trees are gone – piled up in the mud waiting to be hauled away and likely chipped into mulch.
Sadly, the same variance process was used to allow the clear cutting that has happened in Wakefield where the Sheetz is being constructed. As with Dunn Road there were not enough votes on Council at the time to challenge that decision either.
After the 2017 election Council changed. Mary-Ann Baldwin is gone. Bonner Gaylord is gone. Especially with the election of Stef Mendell in District E, the balance of power on Council has shifted. After the election, Council sent a letter to the Board of Adjustment.
Up to that time the Board of Adjustment had been hearing an argument that the forestation requirement in the new UDO was a typographical error. After the new Council was seated, we made it quite clear to the Board of Adjustment that they have no authority to disregard any part of the City’s ordinances. Only the City Council can change the ordinances and until Council does so, the Board is to enforce the 40% forestation requirement.
Sadly, for Dunn Road and in Wakefield the damage was already done.
Elections matter. Who you elect to Council matters. The clear cutting of Dunn Road and in Wakefield could have been prevented and would have been prevented if only those on Council at the time cared.