Zoning dispute erupts between officials


Confusion over the Mount Airy Master Plan led to a dispute Monday night between Town Council members and the chairman of the town's Planning and Zoning Commission.

The argument focused on the definition of the neighborhood center zoning category. The zone is defined in the master plan as a district that permits commercial structures in a residential area "to serve the daily needs of the residents of a neighborhood area."

Council members and Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Frederick W. Goundry clashed over changes to the neighborhood center category made during a council workshop last month.

"We work on a plan for 2 1/2 years, and at the 11th hour the Town Council has made a proposal to change the substance of the master plan, and we go back to block one," Mr. Goundry told the council.

Council President Delaine Hobbs said the council amended the zone in response to comments at a public hearing on the master plan.

Mr. Hobbs said residents have told him they weren't permitted to express their opinions at Planning and Zoning Commission workshops on the master plan.

"I've had people call me and say they weren't allowed to speak at workshops," Mr. Hobbs said.

Mr. Goundry disagreed, saying the commission gave residents numerous opportunities to voice their concerns at master plan workshops.

The debate over the neighborhood center was sparked by the commission's recommendation last week to change the zoning of a 7-acre property owned by Russell F. Dennis on Village Oaks Drive from industrial to medium-density residential, R-5.

Mr. Goundry said the commission was under the impression that the council had removed the commercial uses from the neighborhood center zone, creating a strictly residential zone instead. He said the council named the new zone R-5, to indicate that five dwelling units could be built on an acre.

Mr. Hobbs said the intention of the council was that the R-5 zone could not be applied to a single property, such as this one, but could be used only as a thickly settled sub-zone within a larger, more sparsely developed tract.

"It's used only in a large development as far as I'm concerned," Mr. Hobbs said of the R-5 zone. "It's not an open zone where you can say R-5 here and R-5 there on 4, 5 or 7 acres. That's why I question making the Dennis property R-5."

The council agreed to postpone a decision on the Dennis parcel until the next master plan workshop, Jan. 17.

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