"Green Acres is the place to be" for a growing number of families who want a few acres in the country, so they can raise their own vegetables and keep chickens or a couple of milk goats.
The new "Rural Estate" zoning district under consideration by the Foxfire Village Council aims to provide just such an option — within the Village limits. Rural Estate would offer a six-acre minimum lot size with fewer restrictions concerning outdoor structures, large gardens, and farm animals, providing a transition from the suburban-style density of the core Village to the open countryside that surrounds it.
Working with the Property Owner
The proposal for a "Rural Estate" district was first presented to the Foxfire Village Council during their February Work Session. Mary Gilroy, who chairs the Village’s Planning and Zoning [P&Z] Committee, introduced it as alternative zoning for a 380-acre tract located east of the Village center on Foxfire Road that was annexed but never zoned.
Gilroy worked with the owner of the property, developer Robert Edwards, to discuss crafting an alternative to the more restrictive Equestrian zoning already in the Village ordinances.
During their regular meeting on Tuesday, March 11 Council members called two public hearings for the Tuesday, April 8 Council meeting to evaluate the new district. One hearing would focus on approval of the new Rural Estate district, a second would allow input concerning the zoning of Edwards' land.
The Planning and Zoning Committee has also recommended changes to the Village's ordinances to allow additional small animal husbandry in the Rural Estate district, but those changes are under review by Village Attorney Michael Brough and will likely be the subject of a public hearing in later in the Spring.
“Why would we have annexed that property?” Councilman Mick McCue asked. “I have some concerns and am uncomfortable about the whole thing."
"Planning and Zoning have done some great things," McCue continued. "This Rural Estate zoning district was well done and well thought out. It doesn’t answer all the questions for me, however. We’ve got annexed property that is nowhere near a developed portion of the Village,” McCue said.
The Council had originally discussed zoning the tract "Equestrian" — a zoning district that already exists in the ordinances.
But Gilroy explained that keeping horses is not the only rural activity Edwards envisions in developing the property.
“When Mick and I sat down with Robert [Edwards] two or three months ago," Gilroy said, "we asked him to tell us how he envisioned that property being developed. Equestrian is not something he is focused on. The buyers he has out there right now didn’t buy because they have a lot of horses. They wanted the hobby farm, blueberry bushes, or a cow. It is kind of a blend."
"We put it [the Rural Equestrian district] together based on some of the things that Robert said," she continued. "That is how we came up with it. We steered away from equestrian, because that’s not what buyers wanted.”
A Bridge from Country to Village
The Rural Estate district provides a buffer between the core Village and the Rural Agricultural [RA] zoning that predominates in the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction that surrounds it.
“It is a bridge between RA and equestrian,” McCue agreed. His concern was the level of responsibility the Village would have for new landowners purchasing property and moving into the Rural Estate area.
“I know the owner asked to be annexed," McCue said. "But future people living on those properties won’t be in that position. They are going to have some very uncomfortable talking points to us and very good arguments to our representatives and say, ‘I want water. I ran out of water and I want water.’ Are we ready, on their timing rather than ours, to provide them water?” McCue asked.
Another concern that McCue raised was recent North Carolina legislation that weakens local government control of development and land use.
“The situation is going to be different," McCue said. "Some of the legislation that our state legislature pushed through completely ignores what village ordinances say. They do what they want to have done, like rezoning property in Aberdeen without going through the Town of Aberdeen, or telling Durham they will provide water to this area that they did not annex.”
Two Separate Issues
Councilwoman Leslie Frusco suggested that McCue was confusing the question of how the property should be zoned with the question of whether it should have been annexed in the first place.
When the Village originally annexed the land owned by Edwards, it was not zoned within the allotted time, so it currently has no zoning. Were it to be removed from the Village, by deannexing it, it would still lie within the Village's ETJ, and still need to be zoned by the Village.
“We are talking about two different things," Councilwoman Leslie Frusco said. "Do we want to de-annex, or leave the land in the Village? If it wasn’t in the Village, it would still be in ETJ. Either way we have control over what is built there.
"Whether we want it in the municipality or not, it is an unzoned piece of property," Frusco said. "That property still needs to be zoned."
"That property is already in the Village. The only way we could change that would be if Edward de-annexed the property."
"Whether it stays or goes, it needs to be zoned something," Frusco said." I think that this is a good blend of a couple of things. I think Planning and Zoning has done a great job. In reference to the Village, there is only one other large piece of property that can be zoned into this [Rural Estate] and that happens to be Woodland Circle. That is currently zoned Equestrian.”
Water Rates Aim to Promote Conservation
Responding to a Work Session discussion among Council Members about whether Village water rates were too high on the top end of the rate card, Maryann Lauer spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to clarify to why the Village water rates were originally increased.
“When the rates were set, it wasn’t being punitive -- it was because the state recommended it,” Lauer said. “They needed to be set higher because we were in a drought at that time, and it was to encourage people to take notice and be more careful in their watering. At that time a lot of people were moving here and putting in expansive lawns, and this isn’t a place to do that."
"My husband, [Ed Lauer, who oversaw the Water Department during his time on the Council] was the water man, and he saw people watering excessively even overnight. He would write letters telling them to turn off the water. It wasn’t really being punitive, it was to get people to watch how much they were watering.”
Councilman Vic Koos recommended paving the entrance of Reynview Vista Road to correct the constant erosion created by the cement pad that protects the water line valve. Frusco suggested that homeowners should be given input before the board votes whether to pave or not.
Storm Drain Fixed
A storm drain on Village property recently backed up and was flooding the grounds near the Foxcroft Circle Condos, Koos reported. Necessary repairs were made by the Village.