A first win in Franklin County

The company petitioning to turn a sand mine on the banks of the Tar River into an asphalt and cement plant has pulled its application to rezone the land.

Wade Moore Equipment, based out of Maryland, retracted an application to rezone nearly 190 acres from Light Industrial/Conservation District to Heavy Industrial after a public hearing at a Franklin County Board of Commissioners meeting brought out plenty of opposition.

“There was probably about 15 people who showed up for the public hearing, and they were each given five minutes to speak. Public comments went on for at least an hour, and all the folks who spoke were against it, and they were all people who lived there or were farmers who farmed the land around there,” said Jill Howell, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper.

A sand mine has operated on the waterfront property since 1968; the rezoning application covered its expansion to an asphalt and cement plant, rock quarry and mulch yard. The land, however, is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, one of which is a historic African-American community predating the original sand mine.

“The whole area is residential except for this one property,” Howell said.

Howell learned about the issue a week before its Nov. 16 public hearing, when a neighboring property owner received a letter in the mail from the county and reached out to her.

“She had been notified as an adjacent landowner, and she went around and asked some of her neighbors whether they had heard about it, but a lot of them had not,” Howell said. “The window between when (the county is) required to publicly notify or send letters and the hearing is pretty quick. Lots of times, by the time they get the notice, there’s no real way to find out information about it. … I prepared what I could on environmental and health impacts and gave them to the neighbor so she could spread it around.”

Concerns aired at the hearing ranged from roads unable to handle a large increase in truck traffic and the dangers that poses to the community’s residents — especially seniors and young families — to plummeting property values and potential air pollution and its effects on the community’s health.

“They were all very adamant that they did not want this around them,” Howell said.

Due to COVID-19, Franklin County residents were given an additional 24 hours after the meeting to turn in public comments. The Franklin County Board of Commissioners intended to meet again on Nov. 19 to make a decision about the rezoning, but by then Wade Moore Equipment had retracted its application. Howell said she believes the company will resubmit a better-thought-out bid to have the property rezoned, and encourages continuing community participation.

“My speculation why the application was pulled is that there were a lot people who turned out against this,” Howell said. “What this means, for now, is this is a win, and this is what happens when people show up and speak out. … So many decisions about industry and development that can impact the local community are made at the county level. Once these things get up to the state, they’re super-hard to fight. If people can find out about it on the county level, there’s an opportunity for a much better outcome.”