Merge the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment? Not so fast say Granite Quarry officials

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 8, 2019

GRANITE QUARRY — Despite numerous recommendations to the contrary, the Granite Quarry Board of Aldermen decided Monday night against combining the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment.

In a 3-2 vote, the aldermen decided to keep those other boards separate. Mayor Bill Feather broke the tie, siding with Mayor Pro Tem Jim LaFevers and Alderman Jim Costantino.

Aldermen Kim Cress and John Linker wanted to combine the boards.

Town Planner Steve Blount has recommended numerous times to fold the Zoning Board of Adjustment into the Planning Board. He said Monday night he received unanimous support from both of those boards when he presented his proposal to them.

Blount said historically the town has had trouble filling all the seats on each of the volunteer boards, and it’s difficult at times even to raise a quorum.

In particular, the Zoning Board of Adjustment meets infrequently, and its most dedicated members seldom get to perform their duties.

Linker bore this out. He said he has known the Zoning Board of Adjustment to meet only once a year or even once over 18 months. It has met more in the past three or four months than it has over the past four years, Linker said.

The nine-member Zoning Board of Adjustment needs five for a quorum. “We have trouble getting five now,” Linker said.

Linker said small municipalities often combine the planning board and zoning board functions into one, which is allowed by state law.

Blount noted the Zoning Board of Adjustment has three main duties: deciding on requests for special-use permits or variances and hearing appeals of decisions made by the town planner.

Blount proposed a joint Planning Board/Zoning Board of Adjustment consisting of 13 members, with eight from within the town limits and five from the town’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction.

This initial board would take in all the active members of both boards, Blount recommended. With Blount’s proposed change, the Planning Board would have increased from nine to 13 members.

“Over time and through attrition,” Blount said in a memo to the Board of Aldermen, “the board size will be reduced by future text amendments to a more manageable size.”

Aldermen held a public hearing on the proposed merger of the boards, and Zoning Board of Adjustment member Doug Shelton rose to speak against the combination.

He said he was out of town when Blount spoke to the zoning board about the plan.

Shelton, a candidate for the Board of Aldermen, said the merger could create a subtle but inherent conflict of interest. The Planning Board might first consider plans coming before it, then be asked to make decisions on those same matters as a quasi-judicial board, Shelton said.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment has a unique function, meaning it should remain a unique board, Shelton said.

“The underlying problem is, why can’t you get enough volunteers?” Shelton said. “… Combining the boards does not solve the root problem.”

Town Attorney Chip Short estimated Granite Quarry has operated with separate planning and zoning boards for some 30 years.

“Over 30 years, this (discussion of combining the boards) comes up about every five years,” Short added. “This is nothing new.”

LaFevers said the conflict concern raised by Shelton was a legitimate one and he would like to keep the boards separate, as did Costantino.

While he ultimately voted to keep the boards separate, Feather said he is not opposed to reducing the number of people serving on the Zoning Board of Adjustment, for example, to five.

Blount said the board could function with as few as three members.

In other Granite Quarry news:

• Interim Town Manager Larry Smith introduced Holly-Anne Franco as a new planning coordinator for the town. Franco started work Monday, and she will be “coordinating our administrative, planning/zoning and code enforcement efforts,” Smith said in his update.

Franco previously was an investigator and codes enforcer with the Rowan County Fire Marshal’s Office.

• A public hearing on “Project Profile Trail,” an industrial expansion proposed for a speculative building in Granite Quarry Industrial Park, was delayed until November while a final investment amount is secured.

The investment amount would determine what kind of tax incentives the town might be willing to offer.

• The town has started a food drive for the needy that will last through Dec. 31. A collection box is in the lobby of Town Hall.

• The town starts leaf collection today.

• A town “Litter Sweep” will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday.

• The Granite Quarry Fire Department will have an open house at the station from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

• The Granite Quarry Family Fun Fest will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Oct. 19 at Granite Civic Park on Peeler Street.

• A Halloween “Trunk or Treat” will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Fire Department.

• Aldermen appointed Cass Mattingly to the town’s Revitalization Team.

More on the Granite Quarry board meeting will be reported in Wednesday’s edition. Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.