Attorney challenges China Grove on Zoning Board members

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
CHINA GROVE ó An attorney representing the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustments claims the town’s records are in error and that three board members are legal.
Last month, town officials said three members of the Zoning Board ó Chairwoman Lois Elliott, Vice Chairman Harry Mills and Don Wagner ó were never reappointed and are not valid members.
Salisbury attorney Andy Abramson sent a letter last week to the town, contending that even if Elliott, Mills and Wagner were not reappointed, they are “de facto” members because no one has been appointed to replace them. Abramson wrote that under state law, their status remains in effect until new members are duly appointed.
Abramson contends that regardless of the status of the three board members, the Zoning Board’s October 2007 decision to revoke the home-occupation permit of Steve Stroud is legally binding.
Stroud, a former alderman, has filed a legal action against the town and the Zoning Board, challenging the decision.
Elliott filed the complaint with the Zoning Board, claiming that Stroud’s safe-and-lock business was illegally operating in a residential area and that the noise bothered her. Several of Stroud’s neighbors testified that there was little or no noise.
Stroud has contended that the action was political and personal. Over the past several years, Stroud has clashed with former Alderman Troy Elliott, husband of Lois Elliott.
Initially scheduled to be heard in Rowan County Superior Court later his month, the appeal of the Zoning Board action has been delayed until September.
Earlier this year, the Board of Aldermen agreed to hire Abramson to represent the Zoning Board in the Stroud case.
In his letter, Abramson cited the “collateral attack from the town” related to Stroud’s challenge.
Abramson wrote that he has interviewed people who were at the Dec. 5, 2006 meeting and that they are unanimous that the board reappointed Wagner, Elliott and Mills, and that the minutes are incorrect.
He also cited a roster of the Zoning Board members prepared by former Town Planner Lindsay Hobbs, which included the three members in question.
Abramson suggest that the “most streamlined remedy” would be to correct the minutes of the Dec. 5 meeting and show the appointments.
“The China Grove ZBA is presently considering its other legal options should the town council choose not to voluntarily correct the Dec. 5, 2006 minutes,” wrote Abramson.
Town Manager Bill Pless said he is proceeding with the town board’s instructions to look at merging the Zoning Board into the town Planning Board.
The Board of Aldermen will likely consider the future of the Zoning Board at its August 5 meeting.
Town Attorney Tom Brooke is reviewing the letter from Abramson.