Land-use planning hearing draws large crowd in Cleveland

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

CLEVELAND — A public hearing on land-use planning drew so many people Monday night that town official had to uncrate stacks of new chairs.

Most of those attending appeared in agreement with Cleveland officials that some planning must be done to avoid hodgepodge development that could ruin their town.

A few speakers from other areas of the county raised the issue of property rights.

Mayor Jim Brown welcomed the crowd that included many large property owners in the town’s extra-territorial zoning jurisdictions. That 1-mile span around the town’s limit would be included in a land-use plan. Officials estimated that it’s 90 percent or more farmland.

The Cleveland Board of Commissioners took no action, but Brown asked commissioners to be ready at the January meeting to act on a contract with Benchmark-CMR Services of Kannapolis. The cost is estimated to be about $10,000, but negotiations are continuing on the final price.

Ron Smith, planning manager with Benchmark, gave an overview of land-use planning, explaining that it’s different from zoning in that it provides a guide or blueprint for future decisions.

Smith used maps that Benchmark has done for other towns — including Troutman — to show elements of a plan.

Smith and Mayor Brown said the widening of U.S. 70 is bringing outside development pressure that will greatly alter Cleveland and the surrounding countryside.

“We’re not trying to dictate,” Brown said. “Guys, we got a four-lane highway. We’ve got growth coming. Do we plan for it?”

Brown emphasized repeatedly that the town wants its residents and the property owners in the 1-mile zone outside to be involved in developing the plans.

Many of those at the session were farmers.

Paul Myers said he grows corn and raises beef cattle. “I’d hate to see the farmland cut up for development,” he said. “I want to see as much as possible stay farmland.”

Spencer’s Dale Wagstaff, co-chairman of the recently formed Rowan Property Rights Alliance, commended the board for its cautious approach, while calling on the board to uphold private property rights.

Jeff Morris, a Salisbury attorney, praised the work of Benchmark both in land-use planning and in providing other services to towns across the state. “You couldn’t have chosen a better group,” Morris said.

But he warned about outside influences, including UNC-Charlotte’s Urban Institute and what he described as an agenda to promote open space. “Cleveland is in the best position to decide the future of planning in Cleveland,” Morris said.

During a question-and-answer session, Smith, Brown and town commissioners answered a range of questions.

When someone asked about annexation, Brown said he doesn’t envision any involuntary annexations.

Commissioner Pat Pheifer said the cost of extending water and sewer to an annexed area is “throwing money away,” adding that it can be a nightmare.

When Jackie Myers asked why the town needs to hire planners, the mayor offered a blunt assessment. “We’re amateurs, they’re experts,” he said.

Ron Davies, chairman of the town’s Planning Board, spoke up for the need for a plan and for zoning.

“Zoning protects us. It’s the reason we don’t have all-night bars … or strip clubs next to our homes,” he said, adding, “Nobody is going to stomp on your rights.”

If the board opts to go forward with the land-use planing, Brown said there will be several sessions to get input from the residents. Property owners will be notified by letter of the meetings.