Harper Road Neighbors display concerns over rezoning proposal

Published 12:10 am Thursday, February 9, 2023

Clemmons Gymnastics looks to make move to church in residential area

Maybe you’ve seen the signs lining Harper Road between Peace Haven Road and Styers Ferry Road and wondered exactly what’s involved with the message: “NO Commercial Rezoning: Forsyth County Case F-1626.
At stake is a Special Use Limited Rezoning request from property owner New Hope Presbyterian Church, the petitioner — with a project name of Clemmons Gymnastics — for existing zoning of RS-40 (residential) to proposed zoning of LB-L (limited business).
The signs, distributed by Harper Road Neighbors, also stated “Super High Traffic Private Sports/Daycare Complex with Late Hours” for the project, which was originally on the City Of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Planning Board agenda for today (Thursday). However, the case was requested to be continued by the petitioner before last Friday’s deadline to the March 9 meeting.
Chris Murphy, who is director of the Planning & Development Services Department, said that the limited-use rezoning requested by the petitioner is in between general-use zoning, which allows whatever the ordinance allows for that zoning district, and special-use zoning, where you have a site plan.
For the requested use, he said, “You don’t have to submit a site plan, but you have to say we want to rezone it to a zoning district and limit the uses” proposed to:
• Recreation services, indoor
• Recreation facility public
• Child care drop-in
• Child day care center
• Child care sick children
• Church or religious institution, neighborhood
• Church or religious institution, community
• Club or lodge (Murphy added this is more like Elks Lodge, not like a nightclub).
“The petitioner is New Hope because they own the property, but they are looking to sell it to Clemmons Gymnastics,” Murphy said. “That’s my understanding. That’s what we have been told, but if the rezoning were approved, anybody could then move in and offer one of these uses.”
New Hope Presbyterian Church purchased the property in 2004 and established a church on the property listed at 6.21 acres.
“Essentially, they are looking to sell the property, and we were contacted back in the fall about whether or not this would be something that gymnastics or rec services indoor use could move into,” Murphy said. “And we’re like, ‘No, not without a rezoning.’ And because that’s a commercial enterprise, it has to have commercial zoning.
“In and of itself, the use is fine, but the vast majority of the uses in that area are residential. So staff doesn’t believe that it is appropriate to introduce commercial zoning along Harper Road when you’re one to one and a half miles away from any other commercial zoning. So from a staff perspective, we’re recommending denial.”
Unless it’s continued again, this item will next appear on the agenda to be released on Friday, March 3, for the City-County Planning Board meeting on Thursday, March 9, on the fifth floor of the Bryce Stuart Municipal Building in downtown Winston-Salem. (Ultimately, regardless of the staff recommendation and Planning Board vote, the final say will come from the elected body — the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.)
An extra month will only provide more time for the Harper Road Neighbors group members to put out even more signs and get more signatures on the petition as they continue to intensify their efforts to turn away this project.
Ron Davis, who lives next door to the church and has “been here my whole life,” knows the history of the property and has seen this become a “grassroots thing” in the community.
“There’s about four different groups that have been walking door to door, mainly on Harper and the little sub-communities,” he said. “There’s only been one person that is a ‘property rights, you can do whatever you want’ that hasn’t signed. We have over 500 signatures.
And as for the signs: “I understand a few people are upset by the volume of signs, but another shipment has come in,” he said. “This road is going to look like … it’s going to be interesting because the signs are going to double, triple. Everyone is saying put more up.”
Davis, who is a longtime developer, said that this is a very unusual situation for a rezoning where this property was not adjacent to or part of a business district.
“It’s the definition of spot zoning,” Davis said. “There are a lot of issues here. This is totally in contrast to residential. This is nothing personal. The opposition is the nature of the uses. This is not an appropriate location.”
In his comment as part of the petition, Davis said: “If this property is rezoned to commercial use in conflict with Forsyth County comprehensive development plan and improperly using the privilege that churches have been properly afforded, it will set precedent to oppose all other church expansions and construction. It will devastate property values and quality of life for the surrounding property owners and place travelers on Harper Road at great risk. This is why we have zoning protections in Forsyth County. The owner has other offers to continue onsite as a church with no zoning changes or opposition.”
Sherrie and Tim Billings own the property directly across from the church, and she stated, “The primary reason we oppose the land being rezoned to business use is due to the additional traffic and hours of operation for Clemmons Gymnastics.”
A couple of petition comments included, “Plenty of other property over by I-40 for this type construction. Build there! Keep integrity structure of neighborhoods.” And then there was this:
“No commercial enterprise should be approved to locate into the middle of residential areas. It sets a terrible precedent.”
Nicole Leftwich, the co-owner and chief operating officer of Clemmons Gymnastics, expected to get pushback from neighbors, knowing the typical rezoning from residential to commercial is going to be about traffic and the impact on property values.
She said there “really wasn’t a lot of constructive criticism” that happened at last Thursday night’s community meeting at the church.
“We were willing to make amendments or any kind of changes to help,” Leftwich said. “I know there was some talk from some of the neighbors that we were going to buy this property and build a bunch of buildings on it, and that is not the case.
“There’s a lot of misinformation that is floating around. We are trying to narrow down the amount of uses to put the neighbors’ minds at ease. We will be operating recreationally indoors, just like we are now. I think gaming rooms and things like that were brought up. Well, I’m not going to be doing gaming rooms. I’m going to be coaching gymnastics.”
Other issues brought up have included the day-care component and late hours, which Leftwich addressed. She said a day care was at the church that had a lease through the end of January and was operating six days a week with 60 to 80 kids per day. As for Clemmons Gymnastics, she said, “when there is no school, we generally open around 10 a.m. If school is out, then we do hold day camps for our working parents, and those generally start at 7 a.m. and are from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
Regarding extended hours, she said that the facility stays open to 8:30 p.m. a couple of times a week and a lot of times to 6:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., depending on the day, “but we’re not planning on doing anything late at night.”
Leftwich said that Clemmons Gymnastics opened in 1991 and has been at its current location on Hacker’s Bend Court off of Kinnamon Road for four and a half years. However, the business needs more room.
“We’re a small family-owned business, and our goal is to spread our teams out,” she said. “We’re really operating out of 6,800 square feet, and that church is over 18,000 square feet. The church went up for sale just like any property, and we were actually looking for property. We saw the church on the commercial sites and made an offer and are under contract for the property.”
Officials at New Hope Presbyterian Church didn’t respond to inquiries for comment for this story.