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Board to fix 'boneheaded' rezoning blunder

Posted on October 9, 2021

Updated on October 11, 2021

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Spring Hope Commissioners Drew Griffin, left, Prudence Wilkins and Brent Cone discuss a rezoning mistake the board made earlier this year during Thursday's candidate forum.

Lindell J. Kay | Enterprise

Spring Hope Commissioners Drew Griffin, left, Prudence Wilkins and Brent Cone discuss a rezoning mistake the board made earlier this year during Thursday's candidate forum.

lkay@springhopeenterprise.com | 252-265-8117

SPRING HOPE — A newspaper column spurred the town Board of Commissioners to seek a fix for a summer rezoning snafu.

“We are aware a mistake was made,” Commissioner Drew Griffin said Thursday during The Enterprise’s candidate forum at the Spring Hope Community Building.

The admission came after a forum question by Ken Ripley, the newspaper’s editor and publisher emeritus.

In his weekly column published Sept. 19, Ripley wrote that the commissioners made a “boneheaded” mistake by rezoning 74 acres of undeveloped land off N.C. 581 above the town limits from residential-agricultural, RA to high-density R-8 despite a clear statement within the zoning ordinance that the R-8 zone “shall not be used in newer areas.”

A developer made a rezoning request so he could build as many as 200 homes priced at $200,000 on 8,000-square-foot lots, generating additional profit for him and more taxes for the town, as The Enterprise reported at the time and Ripley expounded upon last month.

“The town board, through the combined negligence of the town manager and the planning board, could not do what it did,” Ripley wrote. “The town didn’t just ignore the law, its rezoning decision smashed it.”

During the forum, Ripley asked commissioners whether they plan to correct the rezoning mistake. He said the small lots are “poisoned fruit” that could subject the town to lawsuits.

Griffin said the ordinance book is so thick that no one could keep up with all of its content.

Commissioners seeking reelection mostly deferred to Town Attorney Mark Edwards, who sat in the audience during Thursday’s forum.

Commissioner Brent Cone said the town began the process to reverse the zoning decision on Oct. 5 after a closed session during the town board meeting held the day prior.

Cone said he appreciates Ripley’s hard work keeping the board straight.

“We sure don’t mind for the teacher to slap our wrist if we make a mistake,” Cone said.

Ripley served on the town planning board for 30 years, including terms as vice chairman and chairman. He helped write many of the town’s zoning ordinances.

Jason Himmelright, a newcomer candidate for town commissioner, said the situation is an example of part-time people working on full-time problems.

Himmelright said it takes more than looking over information just before a board meeting once a month to run a town.

Commissioner Prudence Wilkins, who is running for mayor, said commissioners receive their agenda packets days before a meeting and study the information to be prepared.

“We are not part-timers,” Wilkins said.

Eric Gainey, a newcomer commissioner candidate, said many of the town’s ordinances aren’t available online and are difficult to find.

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