Despite passionate opposition and without a clear picture of the parcel’s history, developer Darryl Evans on Monday won approval for a 78th lot in Hannah’s Creek subdivision.
The Clayton Town Council’s unanimous decision to allow a house on the vacant 1.5 acres went against a planning board recommendation and against the wishes of neighborhood residents.
Claims of a promised park and a vague origin story gave the council pause, but ultimately, it decided the lot was in step with town codes.
Johnston County approved Hannah’s Creek in 2005, but three years later, Clayton inherited oversight when the town expanded its extraterritorial jurisdiction.
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On the plat the county first signed off on, Lot 78 was part of an 11-acre tract of permanent open space, which Evans has said was mainly to ensure he had enough available soil to support the subdivision’s septic tanks.
In 2006, county records show, Lot 78 became “reserved for future development,” though the county planning staff has changed since then, leaving no one who can explain how or why. Meanwhile, residents started moving in, wooed in part, they say, by promises the centrally-located space would be a future playground or common area.
“This was an absolute selling point,” resident Joshua Carlisle told the town council on Monday. “We were told we could sit on the back porch and watch our kids playing on the playground.”
Councilman Michael Grannis asked Carlisle and others if they any had any written proof that Evans had promised the lot to the neighborhood. Aside from nonspecific references in marketing materials, all admitted they did not.
Clayton Planning Director David DeYoung declined to make a recommendation on Lot 78, except to say it fulfilled the town’s code requirements for adding a lot to an existing subdivision. His hope was that Evans and Hannah’s Creek residents could reach some kind of common ground, but they never did.
The Town Council sounded unconvinced Lot 78 was a good thing but pointed to town code in justifying its unanimous endorsement.
“Feelings get in the way,” Councilman Bob Satterfield said, referencing the planning board’s 5-2 vote against the lot. “Feelings can get in the way, but they’re not allowed to here. Some of you may have been told the lot was going to be for y’all, but that’s the way it is. If there was any evidence presented, my ruling might be different.”
Councilman Butch Lawter told the approximately 20 residents in the audience that he sided with them in his heart but had to vote with his head. “I have no doubt you were told one thing and are now dealing with another, and I hate that for you,” he said.
Evans’ attorney, Joseph Hemmer, said the common-space conflict had no bearing on the council’s decision on Lot 78.
“Marketing material is just that, marketing material; it’s not for sales or conveyances,” Hemmer said. “Things do change, but there should be nothing that prevents this. Whether Lot 78 complies with code is the question before us today.”
Evans said he saw a bait-and-switch of his own when trying to finish his subdivision. The Clayton Planning Department, he noted, approved Lot 78 for a house nearly two years ago, but DeYoung later said his office issued that approval “in error” because it constituted a major subdivision change and should have triggered a full review process.
“The final layout would have been altered if Lot 78 was not approved,” surveyor Curk Lane said in Evans’ defense.
Over the past few months, as Lot 78’s application moved through Clayton’s planning process, Evans tried to ease tensions with residents by offering a walking trail through some of the remaining open space. The residents said they didn’t want it, doubting Evans could turn the soggy land into a suitable trail.
Under the plan the Town Council approved, Evans has no obligation to build a walking trail or refund money residents paid over the years to maintain Lot 78. Hannah’s Creek residents will get a new neighbor but nothing more.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson