Wilson approves new homes near airport runway

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Wilson city councilmen debated zoning restrictions around the airport Thursday, eventually giving the go-ahead for three existing developments to finish construction.

“We did find one piece of language inadvertently left out when we moved to the Unified Development Ordinance and those subdivisions were not able to finish construction without this sentence in the ordinance,” said Wilson Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz. “There are three developments that want to proceed, but are on hold until we put this language back. They made the investment based on language in the ordinance and this action puts that clause back so they can continue.”

City Manager Grant Goings said the airport overlay district is an optional protection municipalities can implement based on Federal Aviation Administration recommendations. The city added development restrictions to varying degrees in proximity to the airport runways in 2006, but the three projects had already been approved, so they were grandfathered in. The problem arose when construction slowed from the recession and the city implemented the Unified Development Ordinance, mistakingly omitting the grandfather clause and putting the projects in limbo.

“If this was a new development, we would not allow it in the inner safety zone, but when the ordinance was first adopted, there was a clause that developments that had already begun would be allowed to continue those developments,” Lentz explained. “It is reinstating an allowance that was already on the books.”

Councilman Tom Fyle was less than supportive of the action, though.

“This is in the safety zone of the airport,” he said. “Is that concerning to anyone but me?”

Fyle made a motion to continue the item until officials could have a more in-depth discussion. Councilman Derrick Creech seconded the motion, but the rest of the council voted against it. A second vote approved the text amendment and allows construction to continue, but Fyle and Creech voted in opposition.

“I’m not concerned about this. These people invested money in the property to build residential development when we didn’t have this runway protection zone in place,” Councilman James Johnson said. “I believe they should be grandfathered in, so I’m going with the attorney’s recommendation.”

The airport overlay was one of six public hearings at the Thursday night meeting, but no one spoke on it or any other items. With little discussion, the council approved a text amendment clarifying regulations on sweepstakes centers, annexation of 5026 Lamm Road and 9.91 acres along Bucklin Drive and Thornwall Court as well as the rezoning of 2900 and 2920 Raleigh Road Parkway.

“Is this the same property we’ve tried to put restaurants on before and Belle Meade people have always had opposition about? Have we had any opposition on this?” said Councilman A.P. Coleman. “There are such restrictions in this about what can go in there, so I can’t see any issues.”

The developers met with neighbors and agreed to several restrictions. The plan is to construct a 15,000 square-foot building nearer to the shopping center with the lot adjacent to the neighborhood remaining largely undeveloped. No restaurant is planned for either parcel, but a deed restriction will be put on the property nearer to the neighborhood barring a restaurant for 40 years.

The council also approved staff’s recommendation to continue the rezoning request for 44 acres on the 4900 block of Summit Place, which had been slated so developers could finish the Summit Place Apartments. Lentz said staff needs to research the issue before bringing it back to the council next spring.

Other action taken at the meeting included bids for a replacement power transformer on Lane Street, a backup power transformer for Substation 4 and a new video system for the council chambers.

The council also approved $197,000 in Community Investment Grants, including: $50,000 to Preservation of Wilson and an energy assistance program, $36,000 to Wilson 20/20 Community Vision, $31,000 toward a capital improvement project for the U.S. 301 corridor and $15,000 each for the N.C. Whirligig Festival and Eyes on Main Street. The allocations are identical to the grants approved by the council in September of 2017.