Mar 312015

Last night (March 30, 2015), Wesley Chapel Mayor Brad Horvath held an town hall meeting before crowd 60+ citizens and the media to discuss from his perspective, the issues surrounding the de-annexation petitions and its current status.

Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Brad Horvath

Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Brad Horvath

It wasn’t until early January 2015, that the “de-annexation” petitions from Wesley Chapel property owners came to public light. Mayor Horvath related in his comments last night, that he became aware of the petitions when Sen. Tucker called him in May of 2014. Horvath stated that none of the petitioners have contacted any member of the town council, (including a councilperson Becky Plyler, who recently filed her own petition to de-annex), prior or since Sen. Tucker’s initial call, to complain of an issue that drove them to seek to de-annex. According to Mr. Horvath, Sen. Tucker at the time, did not request that the town do anything, but he (Sen. Tucker) had yet to decide how he would handle the petitions. It wasn’t until January that list of petitioners was actually presented to the town.

In subsequent meetings before the Town Council, petitioners did come forward and a few offered their reasoning: primarily the limited types development permitted under Wesley Chapel zoning.

In early March, Sen, Tucker filed a bill (S214 -Link) to de-annex approximately 71 parcels/900 acres from the heart of Wesley Chapel.

Map prepared by Sondra Bradford

Petitioner Properties marked in red (Map prepared by Sondra Bradford)

As I mentioned above, the crux of the issue is zoning, namely Wesley Chapel’s R40, one house per acre zoning, which in the case of some of the de-annexation petitioners prevents them from maximizing the value of their land. In reality, the ringleaders of the de-annexation petition would prefer to be subject to County zoning rules which are much more lucrative for developers, especially in light of the recent decision by County Commissioners that permitted high density subdivisions near the airport. (Readers should put these high density subdivisions in context with school overcrowding and the draconian redistricting experience last year.)

Government should not be in the business of augmenting the value of property to the benefit of “connected” landowners and to the detriment of the remaining citizens and the future of the town.

A little history..

Many of the small towns in Union County were created from the same fear of being annexed by a bigger town. The Town of Weddington and the Village of Marvin were incorporated to prevent Charlotte encroachment, while Wesley Chapel was concerned about Indian Trail’s involuntary annexation intentions.

Excerpt concerning the formation of Wesley Chapel from Bill Lee's History of Wesley Chapel.

An excerpt relating to the formation of Wesley Chapel from Bill Lee’s Book, the History of Wesley Chapel.

Motivating the town

In the meantime, Mayor Horvath, most of the council-members and a growing number of Wesley Chapel citizens are working to forestall the de-annexation bill by any means they can.

Clearly, the next stage are largely dependent on the actions of Senator Tucker and by extension, Representative Craig Horn. Both State officials have stated that their only motivation is find a way to solve the problem locally, but they feel the town needs to be more accommodating and communicative with the petitioners.

The other side of the coin

In my discussions with Sen. Tucker today, he justifies his action with the argument that he is just representing his constituents, who feel the town zoning is too narrow and restrictive. Paraphrasing Sen. Tucker, straight R40 zoning doesn’t offer landowners and perspective buyers sufficient latitude. In response to my challenge concerning the coercive nature of the suggested resolution via new zoning ordinances, Sen. Tucker responded by saying that he is not asking the town to do anything that they weren’t either already working on or could accommodate without violating their base R40 zoning. Both his points are true.

Senator Tucker stated that because of the rules of the Senate that he would be moving the bill out the Rules committee before the cross-over deadline at the end of the April.

How do you like them apples?

So if I understand correctly, the town is being “told” that if they create a couple new zoning ordinances (Age-restricted, “over 55” housing and clustered subdivisions), that would satisfy the demands of both our elected state officials and the disgruntled petitioners.

STOP and think about that a minute.

It so happens that the planning board of Wesley Chapel has been working on an “Over 55 – restricted housing subdivision ordinance for some time and recently sent their recommendations to the Council for a public hearing and vote.

Typically, this is how new ordinances are developed. It’s not complicated, it doesn’t take heavy-handed manipulation from Raleigh. Ordinances are developed based on needs as realized by the planning board, elected council members or via text amendments requested by citizens.

The de-annexation effort would have fallen flat on its face were it not for the support Senator Tucker and the way the General Assembly members typically support the “Local” bills of other members. Local bills don’t require the Governors signature to be come law, so there are no “veto” concerns, either.

Whats the worse that can happen?

If all the parcels on the Senator Tuckers bill were de-annexed, how would that really effect Wesley Chapel?

Initially, Wesley Chapel will suffer a revenue loss, both from a reduction in ad valorem property taxes, utility franchise fees it collects and sales tax.

In the long term, the damage will be to the continuity of the town’s land use planning and master plan, falling prey to the political winds that influence County Commissioner zoning decisions. All those 900 plus acres would be figurative donut holes in Wesley Chapel’s land use map. Wesley Chapels tax paying residents would have very little influence in what the county could or would permit on those parcels.

A great example of what could happen has already happened in Wesley Chapel!

Have you seen that monstrosity of electric substation across from the Stonegate subdivision? Well the power company first applied to the town for a permit to build a larger substation on the other corner opposite the garage property. After days of testimony by the utility and opposition, the Wesley Chapel Council turned down the permit due to the failure of the substation plans to meet the findings of fact under a “quasi-judical” permitting procedure.

Much the surprise of the Town Council and Stonegate homeowners, the power company purchased the lot on the other side of the road and announced plans to build the substation.

You see the lot on the other side was a “donut-hole”, under Union County zoning, and a use by right for a power substation, meaning the power company only had to file a site plan with the county and obtain a zoning permit — a simple matter.

Regardless of your viewpoint on the value or need of a substation, the will of the local community was circumvented.

There are many instances of use by right in Union County zoning that bypass the local community and don’t require legislative decisions to permit.

What should the town do?

Simply put, considering the downside — whatever Sen. Tucker and Representative Horn say to do.

 Posted by at 8:15 pm
Apr 242010

esterday, many of you received an email blast from the executive board of the WCWAA concerning the possibility of the park being forced to shut down. The prospect is unthinkable to every parent whose children use and depend on the park — except of course, to a few county government bureaucrats.

Once again it seems that Union County is bedeviled by people with glaring ‘Conflicts of Interest’ being in a position to act in behalf of the own personal interest. The park issue is no different and here is why!

Would it surprise you know that Union County HIRED an outspoken adjoining property owner to the park and according to the Enquirer Journal article included below, a leader of the park opposition? This individual is now employed as Storm Water Engineer in the Union County Public Works Department and has been since 2008!!! The very department trying to close WCWAA by regulatory fiat! This isn’t an X-FILE, folks!

It has been obvious from the start, that the adjoining property owners are trying to leverage the floodplain issue as a way to bankrupt and close the park. Were they to have “Agent on the Inside”, such a circumstance could and would have certainly aided their cause.

I find it curious and remarkably convenient that someone would leave their job as an engineer with the City of Charlotte at the same time they were embroiled in the WCWAA issue, only to take a job with Union County. But for the sake of argument, lets assume the actions by the county towards the park were not influenced by this employee, instead lets examine why the County would hire someone with a history of being actively involved in a local controversy and place that individual in the inevitable position of giving the appearance that decisions were made for personal benefit.

Over the years, I have hammered the point, that imagined or real conflicts of interest shake the foundation of trust in government and I have grave misgivings with the conduct, perspective and impartiality of some county staff members, involved in this matter.

Here’s more.

It was recently revealed that a (another) County UCPW employee inadvertently or ‘accidentally on purpose’ neglected to provide email correspondence she had with a state agency, which was the subject of a “Freedom of Information” (FOI) filing. The WCWAA representative only found about the missing items, when the same FOI request to the state revealed the emails.

Apparently, from the content of the emails, it is be easy to understand why someone might be reluctant to comply, because what those emails revealed was a unilateral decision by this employee to refuse the state’s suggestions of how to mediate and quickly solve the park’s problems.

Emails held back from WCWAA Freedom of Information request:

Email 1: From Ed Curtis of NC Emergency Management, declaring a CLOMR (Condition Letter of Map Revsion) was an option to resolve the park compliance issue. View Email 1 – 2008-03-07

Email 2: County employee questions whether a CLOMR is an valid. View Email 2 – 2008-03-10

Email 3: Email from Ed Curtis saying that a CLOMR IS an option, refuting the County employee assertion. View Email 3 – 2008-03-14

Email 4: Email where County employee responds saying “What’s to keep them from removing a bucket load of dirt and calling it good”? View Email 4 – 2008-03-17

Email 5: Email from Ed Curtis taking the CLOMR option off the table. Email 5 – 2008-03-17

And still more.

One of the issues yet to be resolved is establishing a base flood level. This is done by comparing a flood map from prior years to current. The County staff magically produced a 1997 map as base of comparison and subsequently declared that WCWAA field construction had created a one foot rise.

When the WCWAA asked for a copy, the staff sent only the elevation map and was unable to provide the accompanying high-res aerial photos, stating that they ‘were not’ available. WCWAA had to track down the surveyor who produced the maps to get the photos.

Would it surprise you to learn that photos showed a subdivision grading underway, a road and cul-de-sac in place and that Union County was willing to make one-foot rise judgment, while ignoring obvious contributions of a subdivision (do note: Union County permitted a subdivision to be built in a flood plain) grading had on the flood plain.

Click here to view WCWAA area 1997 photo the County staff didn’t have.

Once this information came to light, Commissioner Kuehler met with the County Manager and Director of Public Works, to ask for an explanation of this behavior. She is still waiting…

What’s next.

If you consider all the facets of the WCWAA case; the upstream and downstream development construction, the lack of County permit enforcement, park engineering issues and the need for the park, it is plain to see that reasonable compromise and accommodation could have prevailed — it should have prevailed. Had there been any interest by the Union County staff or 2006-2008 Commissioner majority, the solution would have be found and implemented by now.

It wasn’t.

Instead, with a bureaucratic belligerency as evident by the emails and actions taken to date, the solution to keeping the park open has been left in the hands of cold, black or white thinking regulators who weld FEMA no-rise regulations like it was handed down from Mount Olympus.

There WAS an opportunity that the state offered Union County, that was taken off the table in a self-righteous zeal, disguised as professional opinion. That’s the way I read those emails. That’s the way I interpret the withholding of the emails from the FOI request. I can argue that there is a prejudice against the park, against those who built it and especially against those who use it.

The decision by Baucom, Mills & Pressley to sue WCWAA for compliance, the way it was added as a last minute agenda item, to the 3-2 vote is proof of the mindset. Openshaw and Lane were in the minority.

Meanwhile western Union County hasn’t a single park to call it’s own, and the park we do have and fund 95% ourselves is a target.

The current Commissioner majority is working towards finding a resolution, but they need the active support of WCWAA members and involvement in the process.

Below is a post I wrote in 2007,

The following post was published in the VSO on Septemeber 18, 2007

WCWAA Blindsided by County Commissioners vote

Last night, in an action that was nothing short of ‘premeditated’, Union County Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley blindsided the Wesley Chapel Weddington Athletic Association (WCWAA), when they voted to order county lawyers to begin legal actions against the association regarding flooding issues affecting adjoining properties.

Without benefit or courtesy of the customary public notice, Commissioner Pressley added the WCWAA issue to last nights agenda and after a brisk discussion with staff, Commissioner Mills made the motion to start legal ball rolling. Commission Openshaw objected to the ‘unfairness’ of taking action without giving prior notice and voted against Mr. Mills motion as did Roger Lane.

Media Coverage

Enquirer Journal: WCWAA, neighbors at odds over fill dirt, flooding near park

The Other Side

In a letter to WCWAA members early last month, Gary Hibler, President of the association stated :

    ..there are a very few families who own property in close proximity to our athletic fields who would like to shut us down. In short, they are accusing us of undertaking actions which increased the flooding of their properties even though most of their properties were already in whole or in part in the flood plain when they bought them. I state emphatically to you that these accusations are unfounded, untrue and that WCWAA has constantly followed the technical and procedural requirements of all governmental and regulatory agencies. We constructed our facilities and are operating them in a lawful manner. The engineering firm that we obtained to assist us in our construction has confirmed on several occasions that under no circumstances has WCWAA done anything which has aggravated the tenancy of the surrounding properties to flood.

In recent months, the commissioners have had a number of closed (secret) meetings with the County and staff attorneys to discuss the issue and during the discussion last night, Mr. Pressley alluded to a meeting with the WCWAA representatives, who he said were given 7 days to respond. Evidently when they didn’t, then Pressley and company were provoked to act.

What the contributing factors are or whose at fault, pardon the pun, is very murky at best. The county flood plain rises as the more development takes place. For example, how much has the new Shea Home development (Hollister) contributed to the flooding? The more water is displaced the higher the flood plain rises everywhere else. The real question is whose agenda is served by this premature action.

Frankly, I was surprised that Baucom, Mills and Pressley took time away the many early Christmas gifts they handed out to the county developers, with the ‘new’, previously secret sewer policy ((The sewer policy enacted last night was crafted only in closed session and in many peoples mind illegal, as it violated NC open meeting rules.)) that gives all the sewer and WATER homebuilders need to construct the more than 8100 homes in the pipeline, but that is subject of another post.

 Posted by at 3:57 pm
Jun 202009

nce again, the staccato bursts of machine gun fire will be rattling the windows and the nerves of the adjoining homeowners to Dr. Michael Land’s Wesley Chapel “Sports” shooting range.

In a decision which probably shocked as many in Dr. Land’s camp as as it does his opponents, Judge W. Erwin Spainhour has evidently decided in favor of machine guns next neighborhoods.

Click to view: Temporary Order – Michael R. Land vs Village of Wesley Chapel

The judge’s temporary order does not include any specificity as to the reasons for his ruling, we will have to wait to be enlightened. Conversely, the Village of Wesley Chapel has yet to issue a statement regarding their future course, should they (and I think they should) choose to appeal the ruling.

It always amazes me how the law in some regards can be as precise as a laser beam, but in other cases be as blunt as the flat side of the shovel. Maybe we should just blame the lawyers.

If Dr. Land had only used his shooting range for the little 22 cal. target rifle he sports for the news photographers and TV cameras at every opportunity, I don’t think people would have objected as strenuously as they do when he whips out his Thompson submachine gun and blasts away. Furthermore you have to wonder about BATF licensing procedures, as Dr. Land’s testimony during the Board of Adjustment hearing gave cause to question his application for a Class III ‘machine gun’ license.

Be that as it may, as long as hills of Wesley Chapel are alive with the sound of shot and cannonade, then Dr. Land’s shooting range will remain the target of angst and anger.

 Posted by at 10:54 am
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