Groups and individuals wishing to make a donation or sponsorship on Elkin’s public property now have official guidelines to follow, as the town commissioners passed a proposed Donation and Sponsorship Ordinance in a 3-2 vote Monday.
Also during the meeting, the elected officials chose not to take action on a rezoning request made by a property owner’s neighbor, which is allowed, but rare in occurrence, explained George Crater, Elkin’s planning director.
Donation ordinance sets policy
The path leading to Monday’s eventual passing of an ordinance to address the procedure and rules followed when a person or group wants to make a donation in the form of a bench or some other gift or sponsorship of athletic teams and other opportunities came after several months of debate and discussion.
In the fall of 2015, a bench appeared on the trail at Elkin Municipal Park, after the donors of the bench reportedly had it created and placed on the trail at the memorial to the E&A Rail Trail without the permission or prior approval of the town staff. The bench, which honored a toddler with local ties who had died in a vehicle accident a couple of months prior and featured his name, dates of birth and death and a Bible verse, was removed by the town staff when it was found.
The removal of the bench sparked controversy as supporters of the placement of the bench lashed out at the town officials, claiming it was only removed due to its religious referral. But town officials explained it was improperly installed, did not conform to the benches already utilized and approved for use on town property and shouldn’t have been placed there without prior approval.
The commissioners requested recommendations on a policy to address the issue of how to handle donations from the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, and at their retreat in February, three options were presented from a lenient ordinance allowing anyone to put any words they like on the plaque to a stricter version limiting the plaque to just the name of the donor and who it memorializes.
At its March meeting, because one member was absent and excused by the board and the vote to approve the final version of the ordinance was not unanimous at 3-1, a second reading of the ordinance and a vote was required Monday before it could pass and go into effect.
The final version presented and voted on is one that allows benches using the two styles already approved for use on the trail, including a plaque on the back of the bench with the name of who it was donated by or who it was gifted in memory or honor of, or dedicated to. Any additional text requested or an appeal if a proposed gift is not deemed acceptable by town staff would have to come before a vote of the town commissioners, according to the ordinance.
Monday night during the second reading of the ordinance, following a motion for approval by Commissioner Cicely McCulloch and second from Commissioner J.L. Lowe, two commissioners expressed their disapproval of the chosen form of ordinance being voted on.
Commissioners Dr. Skip Whitman and Terry Kennedy both said they didn’t think a consensus on a final version was determined at the board retreat, with the two expressing concerns at how limiting the words on the plaque are.
“I thought we were going to do anything they wanted on the plaque?” asked Whitman as he began discussion prior to the vote. “I didn’t think we agreed we were going to limit it so much.”
But Town Manager John Holcomb said following the discussion by the commissioners at the retreat, he and Adam McComb, director of recreation and parks, were both at the conclusion the presented version was the one the board wanted finalized.
During the board retreat, Kennedy expressed his dismay that it appeared the town wanted the version limiting text due to fear of getting sued.
When the vote was taken Monday night, a simple majority passed the final version presented with Commissioners Bob Norton, Lowe and McCulloch voting in favor and Whitman and Kennedy voting against the ordinance.
Resident seeks rezoning of neighbor’s property
A petition filed by Robert Lankford for rezoning the property at 114 Hawthorne Road, owned by Glenn and Julia McCormack, from B-2, a zoning of highway business which includes some residential properties along highway corridors like Bridge Street, to R-12, strictly residential, came before the town’s planning board recently.
In addition to the formal petition filed with the town, a petition of 35 signatures of concerned citizens supporting Lankford’s request was presented to the town planning board as well, but the planning board is recommending the commissioners not set a public hearing in regards to the request, explained Crater, the planning director.
Crater told the commissioners that the property, which sits on the corner of Bridge and Hawthorne, is one of many properties along the Bridge Street corridor which is zoned at B-2 so it can remain residential or be considered for commercial use if the property owner has that desire. The town set all of those properties for that zoning, including the one at 114 Hawthorne, sometime in the 1970s or before, he said.
“I get [their concerns] if I lived next door to a house that could be a business it would make me nervous, and I understand with the entrance on Hawthorne there is cause for concern,” said Commissioner McCulloch of the issue. “I guess they didn’t realize it was a business zoning until it was for sale.”
McCormack, the property owner, responded to the petition for rezoning explaining in an email to the town, “Over the past 9 years I have struggled to make the mortgage and maintain this house from a former marriage, which I ended up paying for along in 2007.”
His desire is to sell the home without losing a lot on it. “We recently put it up for sale, but after a few price drops, it is being offered at $40,000 less than it was purchased for in 2005.”
In his argument against the rezoning, McCormack said his real estate agents “pointed out that it was zoned as residential/commercial and said it would be prudent to list as such as it would increase the chance of selling it. Our hope and expectation is that it will be bought as a residence, but the possibility that it might be purchased for an accounting, law or professional office improves our chance of selling it before further reductions in price, and is an option we would like to keep.”
Crater also explained to the commissioners that the owner of the properties zoned B-2, whether they are used as commercial or residential, pay the higher commercial-based property taxes.
“Is it a common practice for neighbors to request rezoning for another property?” asked Commissioner Whitman.
“It is allowed, but it is rare,” said Crater, who had conferred with the UNC School of Government on the issue.
“I’m going to go with the planning board. I trust the advisory boards to do what they do,” said McCulloch of her decision to favor no action on the rezoning request.
“This is a matter of property rights,” Commissioner Kennedy said. “It has been zoned B-2 many years and changed hands several times under that zoning. This gentleman bought it knowing the potential for business use in the future. To me, it’s a matter of property rights. To deny him now or change that now would not be acceptable.”
The commissioners chose not to set a public hearing on the rezoning petition.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.