Friday, April 12, 2024

‘Can’t afford to leave’: Leland defers UDO amendment amid resident pushback

Homes along Village Road in Leland, where town staff are proposing banning new residential development.

LELAND — A land use amendment that would ban residential development in Leland’s commercial district will be put under further review after council members fielded citizen complaints last week. 

READ MORE: Leland to consider 70% property tax increase to fund roads and public safety

The council unanimously voted to postpone the amendment removing the use of residential units and associated accessory uses in all commercial districts and the office and institutional district. The modification would also create new minimum lot size requirements for duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes.

Town staff, who are recommending the amendment, believe the changes will maximize the use of the town’s commercially zoned areas, such as land along Village Road and Highway 17. 

According to their calculations, commercial and O&I districts only occupy 872 acres, or 5%, of the town’s 17,408 acres. Of that 5%, 105 acres are being used for non-commercial purposes and such; if the town restricts development in those areas, it will foster more commercial development.

“There is an expressed desire to see more neighborhood-scale retail, commercial services, and office uses to serve the needs of residents,” town spokesperson Jessica Jewell told Port City Daily. “Those uses also garner a higher value per acre, which contributes to ad valorem tax revenue and economic diversity.” 

In other words, more commercial development will generate more money for the town; this comes as Leland is proposing a 70% tax rate hike in its next budget. The increase, if passed, would generate almost $11 million in additional revenue, with more than half going toward public safety. 

However, Leland residents were not happy with the proposed changes, calling them a “downzoning” and accusing the council of pushing out lower income residents, many of whom have roots in the town.

“This is our little community and y’all have come and you’ve destroyed it,” resident Joanne Johnston said at the council meeting.

Johnston characterized the residences along Village Road as a small, country community; to her, the addition of big developments around it would change that feel. She also talked about the effects of the amendment compounded with the proposed tax rate increase. 

“This is our home,” Johnston said. “And if we would have to up and leave —  I got a husband and a son buried at the church and I can’t afford to leave. Other people can’t.”

As part of the Leland 2045 plan, a social vulnerability index was put together for all the parcels in the town. Social vulnerability is defined as the “potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health,” such as natural or human-caused disaster or disease outbreaks.

The map of social vulnerability in Leland shows the upper east quadrant of the town on both sides of Village Road includes the  town’s most vulnerable population. These residents tend to have lower socioeconomic status and less access to transportation and housing than other community members. 

Gary Knox, a real estate agent representing several homeowners along Village Road, described the UDO changes as a stifling of generational wealth for the residents along Village Road. He noted they would not be able to subdivide their property to give to an heir to live on and they wouldn’t be able to build an accessory unit to provide them an affordable place to live. 

At the council meeting, council member Veronica Carter ensured that current property owners would still be able to live in their houses, as the residential properties would be considered legal nonconforming so long as they remained residential. 

The property owners could deed the land to someone else, but no additional residential uses could be added to the property, such as an accessory dwelling unit, unless they applied for and received a rezoning from the town council.

“When you take away the potential when [the land] was already zoned for highest and best use with all those possibilities, it’s  taking a value that cannot be replaced,” Knox said. 

Knox also took issue with the assumption commercial development would flood into the areas once residential uses were banned. 

“Commercial development typically follows residential development, and as residential development has predominated the growth patterns of Leland, we are seeing more interest in non-residential development,” Jewell said. 

However, Knox said to PCD one of his clients was attempting to sell their property and only received inquiries from residential developers.

“This is not a healthy business site location because everything is a ‘mid block location,’” Knox said. “There are no stoplights to give a break in the traffic, so you can’t make a left out. I can tell you, if I’m a business owner, I’m going somewhere where my customers can make a left hand turn and a left don’t exist in that two miles.” 

Speaker William Kai pointed out “another cruelty” in the land use amendment:  Resident homes will likely be devalued. This swayed council member Bill McHugh to make the continuance motion and direct staff to provide more information on how the UDO change will affect home values.

“I just want to make sure that we’re not turning a $350,000 house into a $250,000 house,” McHugh said. 

While the town is not planning to bring in a professional property valuer, staff have been directed to research towns that have made similar land use changes and mitigated effects on residents. They will then bring that information and the land use amendments back to the council at their April 18 meeting.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at

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