Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Pender industrial site rezoning advances despite environmental concerns

The Pender planning board recommended approval of rezoning a 59 acre site to allow new industrial uses. (Courtesy Pender County)

PENDER COUNTY — Torn between environmental concerns and economic benefits, a divided planning board recommended the allowance of new industrial uses for a site in western Pender County.

On Tuesday, the board passed a motion 4-2 to recommend rezoning three parcels totaling approximately 59 acres on the southside of the intersection of Malpass Corner Road and Porter Road.

Applicant and owner TW & AG Lumber requested the conditional rezoning to allow industrial uses for the site; it was previously utilized for lumber manufacturing for nearly 30 years after the county granted the site a special use permit in 1988. 

The property has sat mostly dormant in recent years. The applicant argues the rezoning would bring new economic opportunities to the county by allowing uses including manufacturing, warehousing, construction, real estate rental, and waste management. 

The board’s recommendation included conditions limiting these uses; the site will not allow waste management or textile manufacturing services due to potential environmental ramifications.

Other conditions include:

  • A 100-foot setback surrounding all cement production
  • Existing vegetative buffer along Malpass Corner Road from the previous special permit use must remain
  • A 25-foot buffer surrounding new areas of the site
  • The previous special use permit, which solely approved lumber manufacturing, must be forfeited
  • The applicant must meet all federal, state, and local regulations including the Pender County Unified Development Ordinance

The owner already has one proposed tenant — metal manufacturer Nash Building — to occupy 75,000 square feet on the area facing Porter Road. 

Board member Margaret Mosca voted against the rezoning request, voicing uncertainty regarding the site’s other potential tenants and environmental repercussions. She noted requested manufacturing uses include textiles, tobacco products, wood products, apparel, and electrical equipment and appliances.

“All of these involve heavy chemicals,” she said at the meeting. “You get six of these right in one concentrated area — do you have a 24-hour electrical factory that produces electrical components?”

Citizens living near the site voiced similar concerns during the meeting’s public comment. Resident Cynthia Simpson noted how close it would be to schools, such as Malpass Corner Elementary, and urged the county to consider ramifications for children.

“We’re just here tonight to really ask you guys to think about our health,” Malpass Corner Road resident Latoya Hansley said. “Think about our children that come behind us, and make sure there is nothing hazardous.”

Highway 210 resident Clint North said he moved to Pender County in 1988 — the same year the original lumber manufacturing permit was approved — and represented himself as well as other property-owners near the site. He said the area originally contained drainage before it began to flow into his property and down the highway to Moores Creek about 20 years ago.

“I’m not opposed to what they’re trying to do, but I want to make the board aware that you’re not seeing all the drainage that’s affected by this project,” he said. 

He warned contaminants flowing into Moores Creek would eventually pass into the Cape Fear River.

Resident Jason Hansley similarly said he was open to new business coming to the region, but warned the area has become much more populated with residential housing since the original permit was issued 35 years ago. 

Board member Delva Jordan said he knew of at least 14 homes in close proximity to the property; Hansley said there were no homes in the area at the time of the original permit.

Hansley said the previous lumber manufacturer worked with the community to limit traffic and urged the new owner to coordinate with local property owners to avoid potential negative ramifications.

Attorney Sam Frank, who represented TW & AG Lumber, reassured the board about potential environmental problems. He said the applicant had already eliminated several uses in consideration of these issues, including hazardous waste collection, solid waste landfill, combustors and incinerators. Frank was also open to the prohibition of animal waste on the site, another potential use he said property-owners had opposed.

He argued the site would provide economic and job opportunities to support the fast-growing county. He said the site is already established as a great location for commercial industrial use.

“There’s tremendous opportunity with this piece of property for Pender County,” he said. 

In response to resident’s concerns, Frank argued any industry allowed on the site must comply with the law.

“There is nothing about changing the zoning on this property that allows the owner of the land or an occupant of the land to break the law,” he said. “Draining chemicals into the soil, jeopardizing lives and health, harming other human beings — are things that are against the law. And there is nothing about what we propose for the uses on this property that would make any of those wrongful things legal.”

Planning board member Damien Buchanan argued buffers for concrete production and prohibiting textile and waste management uses would address environmental concerns sufficiently to move the proposal forward. 

Mosca countered there are too many unresolved questions for her endorsement despite the new conditions.

“What else is going in? It’s too broad for me to understand what the site is going to look like later and how the residents are going to be impacted,” she said. 

Board member Delva Jordan echoed Mosca’s concerns and voted against the request; members Jeff Beaudoin, Jeffrey Pitts, Ken Teachey joined Buchanan to vote in favor, convinced job and economic benefits would benefit the county. 

The rezoning request will move to final approval before the board of commissioners on January 16, 2024.

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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