Commissioners Compromise On Racquetball Court

SNOW HILL — A text amendment request that will allow a local contractor to put a racquetball court for private use in a portion of his building zoned light industrial touched off a brief but tense debate between the County Commissioners on Tuesday over its possible larger scale implications.

Attorney Mark Cropper on Tuesday said his client, a racquetball enthusiast and local contractor, expressed a desire to set up a court in part of a building located in the county’s I-1 light industrial zone, but it would not be permitted under the current county code without a text amendment.

Cropper had pitched the idea to the county’s Planning Commission and staffers, who essentially agreed with the code change but voiced concern about the potential for others in the county to convert much or all of their industrially-zoned properties into health clubs and exercise facilities, which could ultimately compromise the limited amount of areas zoned in the county for industrial use. As a result, the proposed text amendment was rewritten to ensure that at least 51 percent of the buildings in the I-1 zone remained in industrial use.

The text amendment request came before the County Commissioners on Tuesday and was ultimately passed, but not before some debate about its potential larger scale implications.

“I have a problem with this one,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley. “I can see not good things happening out of this. I’m concerned about the intersection between the uses.”

Shockley pointed out potential cases of individuals walking through a heavy industrial use to get to a health or fitness club established in the light industrial zone. While the specific instance on which the text amendment is based only includes a private racquetball court for private use in a larger industrial building, Shockley said all of the repercussions had to be considered.

“If he asked for personal racquetball court, I wouldn’t have any problem,” he said. “I you have a 100,000-square-foot building and only 51 percent has to be dedicated to industrial use, that’s significant. We don’t have much of this industrial zoning anyway.”

Commissioner Judy Boggs said she supported the change, pointing out many businesses are looking for ways to improve the health of their employees.

“More and more businesses are providing exercise areas for their employees,” she said. “This is a big trend and our own health department is encouraging it.”

With just five commissioners on hand on Tuesday, a vote was taken and came out 3-2 in favor of the change as written. However, a minimum of four votes are needed to pass a text amendment so the measure appeared to die.

Commissioner Louise Gulyas at that point ribbed Shockley somewhat for his persistent opposition to the seemingly minor text amendment.

“Change for the county is coming whether you vote for it or not,” she said.

Not ready to just let the measure die, the commissioners suggested changing the percentages in the text amendment to ensure 65 percent of a building in the I-1 zone is retained for light industrial use, with 35 percent set aside for other uses. After conferring with his client, Cropper offered a 60-40 split, which ultimately gained the necessary four votes.