The Smithfield Town Council on April 7 approved a contentious car lot, with the mayor casting a rare vote to break a 3-3 tie on the council.
Over the protests of four neighboring homeowners, the council granted a special-use permit for a 20-car sales lot on the northwest corner of N.C. 210 and Swift Creek Road. The land sits about a mile west of Smithfield’s town limits but is within its zoning jurisdiction.
During a public hearing, Dan Simmons, vice president of Smithfield-based Triangle Civilworks P.A., spoke for the landowners, Charles and Jamie Tyler. Simmons said he thought the Tylers had made considerable concessions to the neighbors, adding a fence and extra landscaping along the property line, for example, and even reorienting the site plan to improve the neighbors’ view.
“We have tried everything we know possible to accommodate and make this have as least impact to the neighborhood as we can,” Simmons said.
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Simmons brought along Randy White, a Clayton real-estate agent, as a kind of expert witness. In his professional opinion, White said, he did not think the a car lot would hurt neighboring property values. Rather, he said, leaving the land zoned for commercial use without a specific site plan would damage values more.
“The unknown, of not knowing what may go there, may affect your ability to sell your home,” White said.
Under the current zoning, several types of businesses could go on the land that would likely disturb neighbors more than a car lot. For instance, the landowners could open a 24-hour convenience store, Planning Director Paul Embler said. And unlike a car lot, Embler said, a convenience store would not require town council approval because it’s an allowed use under the current zoning.
Embler also noted that nothing requires the landowners to open a car lot after winning council approval. Rather, he said they retain the right to pursue a long list of allowed uses, including a gas station, barbershop, movie theater or pawnshop.
Simmons said the landowners hope to find a tenant to run a car lot on the property but have yet to do so. If they cannot find anyone, Simmons said, they might open one themselves.
But those points did little to console the neighbors, who said the council should never have zoned the land for commercial use in the first place.
Ester Watson, who lives across N.C. 210 from the property, asked the council to bear in mind that she lives outside of the town limits. “I can’t vote for anybody on this august panel, but you can make decisions that affect the quality of my life,” she said.
The neighbors also rejected White’s opinion that the development would not hurt their property values. Watson’s husband, Frank, said he would not buy his own house again if it were across from a car lot.
Michael Caporale has spent the last three years building a home on the lot next to where the council approved the car lot. He said the county tax office assesses his home at more than $400,000 now, but there’s no way it would remain that high with a car lot next door.
“Looking out my kitchen window, you’re going to see it,” he said.
When it came time to make a decision, Councilmen Emery Ashley, Charles Williams and Andy Moore voted to approve, while Marlon Lee, Travis Scott and Roger Wood voted to deny. The absence of Perry Harris left an even number of councilmen at the meeting, and Mayor John Lampe cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the special-use permit.
To lessen the impact on neighbors, the council tacked additional conditions onto the permit, requiring even more buffer and limiting business hours to before 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Here are other items from this month’s council meeting:
Gift for trees: James George donated a $25,000 endowment to form the J.P. George Tree Lined Street Fund. The town will keep the money as currently invested, and it should yield about $1,500 a year for tree planting.
Card-service savings: Finance Director Greg Siler said the town has saved $24,874 over 10 months since changing which bank it uses for credit and debit transactions. Siler expects the service to cost $40,000 a year, down from $70,000 a year. Smithfield switched to PNC Bank from First Citizens Bank.
Loan refinancing: Southern Bank agreed to cut the interest rate on a loan Smithfield used to finance construction of a electric substation in 2006. The cut, to 2.89 percent from 3.25 percent, will save about $93,000 over 12 years. Last May, Southern Bank cut the rate to 3.25 percent from 4.03 percent, saving about $239,000 over 13 years.