The Mount Airy Mayor and Town Council approved rezoning a property on Twin Arch Road from residential to industrial after a rare, court-like public hearing Monday, Aug. 6.
During the hearing, where mayor and council serve in a “judicial capacity,” like jurors in a court case, the owner of the property answered questions about whether the property’s surroundings had changed considerably since the town approved its master plan in 2013.
Aaron Dorsey, the petitioner, had brought concerns about his property’s changing surroundings before the volunteer Mount Airy Planning Commission earlier this year. Dorsey bought his property in the 4000 block of Twin Arch Road in 2007, he testified. At the time its surroundings were rural and vast — plenty of room to walk his dog and an aesthetically appealing view to enjoy.
Much has changed since. Especially in the five years after the 2013 Town of Mount Airy Comprehensive Master Plan. Trees and a barn were replaced by chain-linked fence and development.
“I didn’t know how drastic it would look from my backyard,” Dorsey told the Times. “It’s really changed in the past couple of years.”
His residentially zoned property is essentially an island surrounded by industrially zoned lots.
“When I bought that property the surrounding areas were not developed at all, even if they were intended to be,” Dorsey said. “And my property sits in the middle of all the other industrial property behind me and now that’s all being developed very fast and it’s affecting my view in my backyard, the freedom I have to walk my dog… it’s right on top of us.”
Dorsey requested the property be rezoned as industrial.
After deliberating at its May 21 meeting, the planning commission agreed with Dorsey, citing a “change in neighborhood” due to the amount of industrial development directly to the north of Dorsey’s property, before recommending that council rezone the property, according to a memorandum prepared by Town Administrator Monika Weierbach.
Mayor and council cross examined Dorsey and a neighbor of his on Monday, asking questions like attorneys would of a witness in court, to determine if his case met the burden of proof. “It is handled a little like a court case,” said Council President Peter Helt, who works as a lawyer in Mount Airy.
Council agreed with the planning commission’s recommendation: The surroundings had changed dramatically and Dorsey’s property should be rezoned.
“He made his case pretty clearly that the neighborhood’s changed,” Helt said, after the hearing and council’s unanimous vote. “I think anybody that’s looked at pictures back around the time of the last master plan and looked at pictures now, he’s an island of residence in an industrial complex, whereas everything was a long way away from him before.”
Dorsey plans to sell the property in a couple of years if it’s rezoned, he told council. And though he didn’t expect a court-like proceeding, Dorsey said, “I’m very happy with the outcome.”
The public hearing for a zoning map amendment was supposed to precede the monthly mayor and council meeting, however the petitioner cited a communication mix-up for their being late. The hearing was delayed until after the regular council meeting adjourned.
“In my almost 16 years [as an elected official in Mount Airy] we’ve only served in what’s called our ‘judicial capacity’ three times,” Helt told the Times. “Once was another zoning thing, once was a dog attack … and then this one.”
Council approves BYOB policy for upcoming events
Both “Celebrate Mount Airy” and “Rock’n the Recovery” are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 25. Council voted unanimously to allow alcohol at the events in downtown and Watkins Park. Event goers can legally bring their own alcohol.
Some council members expressed concerns about allowing alcohol consumption throughout the entirety of Watkins Park.
“My only question is ‘where in Watkins Park?’” Councilman Jason Poirier asked his colleagues. “I would rather it not be all of Watkins Park.”
Mayor Patrick Rockinberg, who recently returned to his post after undergoing a cancer treatment, agreed. Poirier asked for an amendment to the resolution. Helt suggested that it allow for alcohol consumption at the pavillion and 200 feet surrounding it, so as to encompass the bathrooms, playground in case residents bring their children and a small gazebo.
Council amended the resolution to included Helt’s suggestion and voted in favor of it unanimously.