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Proposed zoning change raises questions about High Rock Lake access

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A planning board meeting scheduled to be relatively noncontroversial turned into the opposite on Monday, when concerns were raised about property rights on High Rock Lake.

County staff on Monday suggested the planning board consider a series of small changes to local zoning laws. One would add new structures, such as cabins and tree houses, to allowable uses in residential areas. Another slightly changes allowable uses near Interstate 85. The most controversial, however, would add a new type of allowable lot to the county’s zoning laws — a “utility lot.”

The definition was relatively simple, but Rowan County Planning Board member Joe Coladarci questioned whether people living on the lake might be prevented in the future from accessing the lake because of the new definition.

“It sounds simple, but I guess I just think a little more nefariously than others,” Coladarci said.

The utility lot definition would create a designation that could include pump and lift stations, cell towers, septic tank drain fields, common areas, open spaces and generic environmental spaces.

Rowan County Planning Director Ed Muire said a pending sale of Alcoa’s dams on the Yadkin River was one reason for the new definition. With the definition, Alcoa could sell its dams to Maryland-based Cube Hydro more easily, Muire said.

In the case of Alcoa’s sale, the new term would apply to slivers of land on the edge of High Rock Lake. It’s land not regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but still owned by Alcoa.

Once the land is transferred, Coladarci questioned what might happen next. He questioned whether Cube Hydro might sell the slivers of land. The purchasing company might prevent houses on the lake from accessing the water. He didn’t cite specific reasons it might occur, but he pondered it as a possibility.

Board member Michael Agee said he didn’t think there’d be any difference with the new definition and Alcoa’s sale.

However, Coladarci had a specific scenario in mind — that Cube Hydro would sell or donate land to the Carolina Thread Trail.

“The bane of Rowan County is the thread trail,” he said. “The thread trail has already stated that it wants access to the lake, OK? And, if it in fact, through the goodness of the new company or the old company, is deeded that property, the fundamental thing that could happen is the thread trail could turn around and say you don’t have access to put a dock here.”

No other planning board member raised specific concerns about the Carolina Thread Trail. However, others questioned whether a person might buy land with the new lot definition and prevent people from accessing the lake. Multiple members of the planning board said they’d prefer to see maps of the exact areas that might be affected by the utility lot definition before taking a final vote.

Ultimately, the Rowan County Planning Board delayed action on the utility lot addition. The board unanimously approved the new structure and I-85 additions, which will move on to county commissioners for final approval.

The new structure addition came in response to tree houses operating in Rowan County without a proper zoning.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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