Snow Hill Gateway Rezoning Tabled

SNOW HILL – Rezoning a parcel of industrial land outside the Snow Hill town limits would go against the town’s strategic plan and the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan, the County Commissioners heard this week.

Sunwoo and Kyunghi Nam want to rezone a parcel of land just outside the Snow Hill town limits from industrial to general business, but townsfolk and a neighboring property owner do not want to see that land commercially developed.

The land, which is currently occupied by a county liquor board store, is not in the local growth area and is not targeted for annexation to the town, said Kathy Gordon of the Snow Hill Alliance for Responsible Progress (SHARP).

Rezoning the Nam land to general business is inconsistent with the Snow Hill strategic plan and the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan, according to Gordon.

“It would add strip shopping center clutter at one of the town’s gateways,” she said.

That area already has a McDonald’s, a car dealership, a gas station and convenience store, a restaurant, and the Dollar General, Nam pointed out.

Gordon said that if SHARP could do away with the unattractive look of that development, it would.

Adding more commercial land would impact the commercial properties in the town, Gordon said, many of which are already struggling. She acknowledged, after a question from Nam, that she does own businesses and commercial property in downtown Snow Hill.

“My concern is we maintain and follow through on the strategic plan,” Gordon said.

“We don’t have a plan. We don’t have anything,” said Kyunghi Nam.

They have not talked about putting a strip mall there, she said. She and her husband want the rezoning to give them a bargaining tool with the liquor store, permitted in that zone through a law that allows state and local governments to transcend zoning.

Denying a commercial rezoning keeps the door open for industrial uses. Commissioner Bobby Cowger remarked that he would rather see a strip mall than an asphalt plant there.

Real estate agent Gary Weber also argued to keep the land industrial, saying that the town has no unused industrial sites. Commercial development on the site would compete with the struggling downtown, which citizens have been working to revitalize, he said.

Nam, who immigrated to the U. S. in 1964, questioned whether the nation was based on free competition and freedom of choice or not.

“I’m not denying your right to compete,” Weber said, but the town’s strategic plan calls for gradual building up of commercial enterprises. If everyone built right away, everyone would fail, he said.

Weber also said he doubts the Nams will be able to get the sewer and water capacity from the town to expand there for years.

The couple could expand the septic system up to a point, said Bob Mitchell, director of Environmental Programs.

“I really object to having a retail place there,” said Elsie Nortland, who owns neighboring property. “Let them go downtown and get their business so we can have stores down there.”

Karen Houtman, Snow Hill’s planner, spoke on behalf of Mayor Stephen Mathews, who could not attend. The mayor and town council are against the rezoning, she said.

“While we need commercial, we need it in strategic areas,” Houtman said.

If the county did approve the rezoning, the town would like to be included in site plan approval, “so we can ensure it does not detract from our historic Snow Hill character.”

Snow Hill’s strategic plan cannot be applied to the Nam’s land, which lies outside the town limits. The county zoning code and comprehensive plan govern the site, but the outdated zoning code does not match the plan. Although the new Worcester County comprehensive plan was passed in March 2006, the plan has never been implemented, with the comprehensive rezoning that would enforce the plan delayed.

“I’m wondering if it would be appropriate to make any decision at this point,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

“The board as a whole has to give a very heavy weight to the recommendation of the planning department,” Nam said.

The planning commission gave the rezoning a favorable recommendation.

“We certainly try to work with the town,” Cowger said.

“If [the Nams and Snow Hill] are willing to sit down and talk perhaps it would be prudent to postpone a decision,” Boggs said.

The rezoning request meets both the change in the neighborhood and the mistake in zoning criteria for a rezoning, Commissioner Virgil Shockley said. “Legally, that’s it.”

Commissioner Louise Gulyas said the rezoning should not be done until the comprehensive rezoning is in place. “Deny it and come back,” Gulyas said.

The commissioners voted 5 to 2 to postpone a decision until the applicants and the town could work something out. Shockley and Gulyas dissented.