Clemmons stops de-annexation effort

Published 12:10 am Thursday, June 6, 2019

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By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

Little did the Clemmons Village Council know that when it was getting ready to start its meeting last Tuesday night at 6 p.m. that House Bill 392 — Village of Clemmons/De-annexation — had just been added to list of bills to be considered by the House Finance Committee bright and early the next morning at 8:30 a.m. in Raleigh.

First, a little background…

Despite being rebuffed by the Village of Clemmons on his plans for 38 acres on the western side of Lewisville-Clemmons Road near River Center Drive, Stan Forester took steps to continue with his development — which has 94 percent of the property in Forsyth County — by making a de-annexation request of the 2.5 acres in Clemmons to the N.C. Legislature with the intent to develop the land through the county’s zoning auspices.

Bills introduced in the State Senate and House would essentially accomplish that if approved, and the de-annexation issue has been a common topic in Village Council meetings in the last couple of months.

The Council expressed concerns on how the property might be developed and wanted Forester to consider having the tract annexed into Clemmons, and its standards, so that he wouldn’t have to serve what he called “two masters.” However, Forester admitted to not wanting to work with the Village, saying he didn’t trust them.

Clemmons recently adopted a resolution opposed to the proposed de-annexation — stating the town and its citizens “should receive the benefit of the property being developed to the Village’s standards as well as the property tax revenue as required to balance any consequences new developments bring.”

It further stated that the Village adopted this resolution in opposition to Senate Bill 205, House Bill 392 or any other bills addressing the same property and that this document will be transmitted to the members of the General Assembly to assure their knowledge of the Village’s position.

So when the Clemmons Village Council had its previous meeting on May 13, it was made aware that House Bill 392 was on the calendar before the House Finance Committee on May 15 in Raleigh. Councilwoman Michelle Barson made a plea to have someone there to represent the Village at that meeting, and councilman Mike Combest agreed to attend.

“We wouldn’t have had anybody down there if Michelle Barson hadn’t, as I say, forcefully recommend that the Council send a delegate,” he said.

Combest said he got down there the day before to “walk the halls and do prep work” in advance of meeting and said he was told, “You’re not going to stop this.” However, Combest said, “We were allowed to speak and got all the right momentum on that effort. About 15 minutes into the discussion, you could feel the tide turning and the sponsors (Rep. Lee Zachary and Rep. Debra Conrad) pulled the bill from consideration. Once a bill is defeated, it’s not brought back.”

So after that, the council and staff created a network of contacts to make sure they didn’t miss it when it might be added again.

“Our staff and Council kept the antennas out,” Combest said.

Fast forward to last Tuesday night…

The Village Council meeting lasted for about an hour and a half, including departing planner Megan Ledbetter being honored for her 12 years of outstanding service by naming the conference room “The Ledbetter Room” along with presenting her a “Key to the Village.”

But the night — and the next morning — was hardly over after Village Manager Scott Buffkin received an email from Rose Vaughn Williams, a lobbyist for the N.C. League of Municipalities (NCLM), telling him: “The notice came out tonight at 6 o’clock. I’m afraid it’s on there.”

Of course, “it” being the de-annexation item.

That came about 9:30 p.m., and Buffkin immediately called Combest, telling him of the House Finance Committee meeting scheduled less than 12 hours later at last Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m.

“Scott had his ears out and got notified by the League, so we went into reaction mode,” said Combest, who started to put together a three-minute address rebuttal, a slide packet for several Representatives and a game plan to connect with Sarah Collins of NCLM and any and all others who might be able to help with the cause for Clemmons.

He asked Buffkin to meet him a little after 4 a.m. at Town Hall to get some things printed out before hitting the road around 4:30 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. arrival in Raleigh to allow for any meetings and conversations before the 8:30 a.m. start.

“It was debated for about 20 minutes, and I was allowed three minutes during the public comment period,” Combest said. “They took a vote, and it failed to pass. It was 12-12. I was very surprised. I was told that it was a lock, that the groundwork had been laid. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have brought it back if they didn’t think they had the votes.

“This was an 11th hour drop of the bill. I don’t think anyone expected Clemmons to respond like we did. But the Clemmons Council and staff collectively defeated this de-annexation effort. We killed House Bill 392.”

Combest said that the NCLM, and specifically, Collins, played a key factor in the successful effort with the timely alarm of the last-minute filing.

“They kept an eye out for the bill’s introduction after we forced its withdrawal on the 15th,” Combest said. “Ms. Collins and her colleague were at the hearing, offering solid advice on how to respond to various statements, questions, etc.”

Barson added that there was a great deal of bad information being shared among House representatives on this issue, not the least of which was that Clemmons supported this request.
“Writing and calling our state representatives may correct or overcome one incorrect or misunderstood point but it couldn’t replace a full dialogue with a member of our Council — someone who could share our perspective, answer questions and clear up any confusion,” she said. “Mike Combest actually being there allowed for a debate instead of one single point overriding another — or, worse, someone purposely misleading others and allowing that comment to stand up uncorrected. I believe through this debate the right decision was made — twice.”

Buffkin said that the early word he got from Combest prior to last Wednesday’s hearing was that it was certain to pass.

“I don’t want to put a feather in our cap, but I’d like to think we had some influence in shaping that course of action,” Buffkin said.

After stopping House Bill 392, Clemmons was prepared for a similar threat from Senate Bill 205 but, according to Combest, heard from Sen. Joyce Krawiec’s office two days later, on May 31, that she did not plan to advance the bill since it was defeated in the House Finance Committee.

“We appear to have stopped this de-annexation effort,” Combest said, “but we’re confident everything can be tried again. We’ll be keeping a close watch.”

In highlights from last Tuesday night’s actual Clemmons Village Council meeting, the Council:

• Heard from former councilwoman Mary Cameron and former mayor John Bost thanking Ledbetter for her dedication and service to the Village. Cameron also thanked Combest for going to Raleigh to represent the Council regarding the de-annexation request.

• Heard from Buffkin, who presented the fiscal year 2019-20 General Fund Budget for $7,891,150 and Stormwater Enterprise Budget for $2,320,305. A public hearing was called for June 10 at 6 p.m. to adopt the Budget Ordinance and to set the Stormwater Utility Fee Rate.

• Heard from Gregory Bradsher, Triad Municipal ABC Board administrator, regarding a resolution supporting the current N.C. ABC Control System. Council consensus was to place the item on the agenda for the June 10 meeting to allow more time to review all the information presented.

• Approved wayfinding signage at the intersections of Allegacy Way and Lewisville-Clemmons Road, and Towncenter Drive and Jessie Lane for Publix at its cost. This signage would be developed by the Village through a developing wayfinding program that is part of the Market Center Drive project.

• Recognized N.C. Region 5 Science and Engineering Fair Winner Jack Stieber (a fifth-grade student at Southwest Elementary School) by presenting him with a certificate and numbered Hattie Butner Stagecoach print.

• Approved a request from AAA Storage to withdraw its request for consideration for a Zoning Map Amendment after a public hearing in the previous meeting.

• Agreed with the staff’s recommendation to not submit any State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) projects at this time.