Residents voice opposition of business park

Published 12:10 am Thursday, February 14, 2019

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

Residents of Clemmons West voiced their opposition to having any part in the Tanglewood Business Park project in Monday night’s Village Council meeting.

While a steady stream of residents made their way to the podium at Village Hall to express their concerns during the public comments portion of the meeting, councilman Mike Combest later gave an update on where things now stand between Clemmons and Forsyth County.

After notifying the county of the council’s support for the creation of the Corporate Park Zoning District after the Jan. 28 meeting, Combest said that part of the endeavor to shape the Tanglewood Business Park has been the evaluation and consideration of a request from Forsyth County officials to the Village of Clemmons to contribute $1.2 million to develop needed sewer infrastructure.

That number is similar to the original one that was requested by the county when the business park was first introduced in 2016. After a series of meetings, Clemmons ultimately rejected being involved with the county project because Village officials stated they didn’t feel like the park would be built to their development standards and worried about how the project would impact the community.

“This commercial park will develop outside our current municipal boundary but in all likelihood will have a major impact on all of us in many ways,” said Combest who added that the top four local concerns are neighboring property values, traffic, tax revenue and community character. “If the county commissioners approve this zoning, it will address all the concerns we have and can be a positive, productive, profitable development we all see.”

As for any financial commitment, Combest said the Village will take a standard business approach to this request.

“I’m pleased to say that our county counterparts have recently completed some great work and analysis, and we discussed that last Thursday, and we are now positioned to compare and weigh things like cost benefits and make decisions in the way we expect any investor to make,” he said. “No wheelbarrows full of smoke. No promise. Just hard facts. Our Village staff will now work with county staff, and this will be allow us to make an informed, objective evidence-based decision we’ve been working to get at for the last 24 months.”

“If it makes good financial and economic sense and good community sense, it can be a big positive. If hard-nosed business analysis shows developing this park is cost-prohibitive and financially unsound, and quality of life unsound, I assure you my prediction is it will not be supported. We will let the facts and the evidence and the research take us where it will.”

Eight individuals from Clemmons West spoke in opposition to the business park.

Charles Sherrill, president of the HOA, said that the specialized zoning district sought by the Village would represent a reasonable accommodation to the concerns of local residents on the part of the county but that the context of recent discussions between the two parties has changed dramatically since it was revealed last week that county staff underestimated the initial project costs by half.

“Only now when their fiscal incompetence is revealed to all do they come back with accommodations in one hand and their upturned hat in the other,” Sherill said.

“Zoning accommodations are the least the county can do to accommodate the reasonable concerns of the residents of southwest Forsyth and should not be made contingent on exchange of zoning accommodations for Clemmons’ funding participation. The county made it clear at the outset that they would proceed with or without funding from Clemmons. They should be made to live with that decision.”

Those speaking mentioned a wide range of concerns, including noise, traffic, declining property values, decreasing tax revenues for Clemmons and quality of life.

“I have a hard time finding any positives for Clemmons West and for Clemmons,” said Donna Kamper, who added that the project has been poorly planned. “Now they’re asking Clemmons to pony up $1.2 million for the zoning concessions, and I feel that’s a pretty steep price for that. I hope you reject it.”

Joan Fleishman said that the changes in zoning may sound good now, “but we all know any time the county feels the need to change the zoning code, they could change it again. There are no guarantees that it will stay the same.”

Mark Beckmann said, “I have no good idea even what this creature is or what it’s going to be. I don’t see a whole lot of evidence that anyone does. It’s like flying by the seat of their pants.”

Local furniture company Beaufurn, the first business to commit to the park, has purchased 14.5 acres in Phase I of the 170-acre park but has been waiting for final details to be worked out before proceeding in its move there.

In another item on the agenda, the council brought up growing safety concerns over students parking across the street from West Forsyth High School and crossing four lanes of traffic on Lewisville-Clemmons Road.

“As I understand, a big majority of what they’re crossing for is due to the church on the opposite side of Lewisville-Clemmons Road that allows students to park there,” said Village Manager Scott Buffkin.

He asked the council about staff reaching out to the school, the church (Friends Baptist Church) or DOT to see about what can be done to seek short-term and long-term solutions and that the council concurred.

“There is no controlled way to get across the street,” Combest said. “Kids are going to do that. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Councilman Chris Wrights said that there is no reason for students to be parking at the church because he checked and saw 25 percent of the school lots were empty. West does charge a fee for student parking, and sophomores are not allowed to park on campus.

Some students previously parked at River Oaks Community Church (on the same side of the street as the school), but that was discontinued because of problems such as leaving trash on the premises, according to Wrights, and that the church asked that the school monitor the parking lot.

“To this point, the school has not been willing to have anybody go over there and monitor the parking lot throughout the day,” Wrights added.

During the public comments, Cami Sharick said that she drives by West “and every morning there are kids playing human frogger trying to cross the road.” She doesn’t have kids that attend the school yet, but as a teacher, she said, “I have a big problem watching these kids do this every day. I feel an immediate need for something to be done.”

Also during the public comments, two former council members who were on the council in 2015 addressed the discrimination complaint filed against the Village by the N.C. Human Resources Commission (with a resulting conciliation agreement settlement announced at the Jan. 28 meeting) and comments quoted in the complaint made by Bill Lawry, who was on the council at the time, and current council member P.J. Lofland, who spoke then as a resident of Clemmons, in the April 13, 2015, council meeting.

Former council member Mary Cameron referred to comments from Lofland at that meeting, including, “I’m concerned that this type of housing could increase our crime rate.”  Cameron commented: “Those discriminatory comments show an appalling lack of concern, are abhorrent and are not consistent with the values of the majority of citizens of Clemmons.” … “What bothers me even more is that those sort of discriminatory comments by Mrs. Lofland will raise their ugly head again and influence other decisions she will make as a member of this council. She does not speak for me or the vast majority of the residents of Clemmons.”

Former council member Mike Rogers also spoke, saying, “Our community has been irreparably harmed with the comments of Bill Lawry and Pamela Lofland. They should apologize to the citizens of Clemmons for their comments and the damage that they have brought upon our community and our citizens. There is no place in our society for discrimination.”

Regarding the settlement announced in the Jan. 28 meeting, which included Clemmons paying $150,000 in the settlement along with council members being required to attend one Fair Housing training session each of the next three years, Rogers said, “I am appalled that there was zero discussion, explanation or transparency when this was voted on approved and signed at the last council meeting.”

Following the public comments portion of the meeting, which was presided over by Mayor Pro Tem Michelle Barson (with Mayor John Wait away on business), the council voted to approve an item already on the announcements portion of the agenda — unsealing of closed session minutes prior to the next council meeting relating to the conciliation agreement signed Jan. 28, 2019.

In other business, the council:

• Received an update from Buffkin on the new library regarding upcoming site improvements over the next couple of months, and he added the date for bid openings by the county for the actual library project is set for Friday.

• Approved a Zoning Map Amendment of Ollie Cherry from LO-S to PB-S (restaurant without drive-through service) at 3890 Littlebrook Drive — Zoning Docket C-229 for a new take-out facility for Cherries Café, which closed its longtime restaurant in Clemmons in December.

• Heard from planner Megan Ledbetter regarding taking a proposed text amendment to the Planning Board on following the City of Winston-Salem’s process on how they plan to eliminate internet sweepstakes from their community. It received consensus from the council.

• Also heard from Ledbetter that the Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing for the draft of the Comprehensive Plan on Tuesday with a 6 p.m. walk-in session, a 6:30 p.m. formal presentation and then the public hearing at 7 p.m.

• Accepted the resignation from Charles Sherrill from the Ad-Hoc Transportation Committee.

• Concluded the meeting with a discussion on Tuesday’s annual retreat with facilitator Chris Aycock as they talked about objectives for the day-long session.