ROCKY MOUNT — The Franklin County Planning Commission on Tuesday night decided that proposed changes to the zoning ordinance affecting the Westlake area needed further study.

The commission considered a number of items, including:

  • Expanding the boundaries of the Westlake Village Overlay District, created in the early 2000s, to align with the Westlake-Hales Ford area plan adopted by the board of supervisors in 2016.
  • Creating two new zoning categories — rural residential and corridor business — within the overlay district.
  • Implementing those new zoning districts by rezoning more than 400 parcels in the affected area.
  • Adding definitions to the zoning ordinance related to agriculture uses within the overlay district.

Steve Sandy , director of planning and community development, said these zoning changes were recommended in the area plan, which is meant to serve as a guide for future growth and development.

He stressed that any existing uses of the properties proposed for rezoning, even if they do not conform with the new zoning regulations, would still be allowed unless the use is discontinued for two years. The non-conforming uses would be permitted even if the property were to change hands.

The proposed rezoning would shift 363 properties amounting to more than 5,500 acres of land from the agricultural district to the rural residential district and 50 parcels, primarily along the Rt. 122 corridor, from general business and light industry categories to corridor business.

Sandy said all affected landowners were notified twice by mail of the proposed changes. But a few residents present said they never received a letter from the county, which made some members of the planning commission hesitant to take action.

Deborah Crawford, who represents the Union Hall District, said more feedback should be solicited from the affected landowners. The commissioner said she wouldn’t want to move forward without their blessing.

“As a landowner, I don’t really want anybody telling me that I have to change my zoning for the property that I paid my hard-earned money for,” Crawford said.

Concerns were raised by citizens and some members of the planning commission that the county’s agricultural heritage was being cast aside.

Chairman Earl Webb said he was uncomfortable with such a comprehensive rezoning, which he described as unprecedented in Franklin County. He noted that a significant portion of the county still has no zoning.

James Colby, who represents the Gills Creek District, said everything up for a vote Tuesday night was called for in the area plan adopted three years ago. He said it’s wise to “sync your zoning with your plan.”

Colby made an unsuccessful motion to recommend the changes be made to the zoning ordinance. Instead, the commission opted to further study the issues at a work session next month.

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Casey Fabris covers Franklin County, Rocky Mount and Ferrum College.

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