ROCKY MOUNT — A proposal to make a number of changes to the zoning ordinance affecting the Westlake area was withdrawn by the Franklin County Planning Commission on Tuesday night.
The unanimous decision was applauded by a crowd of more than 50 people, nearly all of whom raised their hands when Chairman Earl Webb asked who was opposed to the proposal.
The commission had considered a number of changes, including:
- Expanding the boundaries of the Westlake Overlay District to align with the Westlake-Hales Ford area plan adopted by the 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 within the affected area.
The mass rezoning was unpopular with landowners, many of whom were concerned about the effect it would have on farming operations. The proposal called for hundreds of properties in the agricultural district to be rezoned for the rural residential district.
Any current uses on properties proposed for rezoning, even if they did not conform with the new regulations, would be allowed to continue so long as the activity did not stop for a period of two years. That means farmers would be able to continue their operations, even if their land was rezoned as rural residential.
Even so, many citizens opposed the changes, which grew out of the Westlake-Hales Ford area plan.
Randy Hodges, who served on an advisory committee that assisted with the plan, said he thought the proposal did not reflect the group’s intentions.
“As far as I’m concerned, we need to leave A-1 [the agricultural zoning district] alone,” he said.
Dale Simmons said it was “ludicrous” to tell taxpayers what they can and can’t do with their land “because a few people don’t like the rural area, I guess.”
Webb, the chairman of the planning commission, said he thought the new zoning districts were not a bad idea, but he was “adamantly against” rezoning properties without the approval of the landowner.
Numerous property owners could benefit from a rural residential zoning designation, he said, but he doubts farmers are among them.
James Colby, who represents the Westlake area, made the motion to withdraw the proposal. Colby said he was motivated in part by the opposition voiced by citizens, but also felt mistakes had been made and the proposal tried to do too much at once.
“It wasn’t the right thing, it wasn’t done the right way,” he said.
Steve Sandy, director of planning and community development, said the withdrawal means the proposal will not be sent to the board of supervisors.