County board delays rezoning decision for Farmington Meat Processing

Published 9:39 am Thursday, June 16, 2022

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

County commissioners delayed for 30 days a zoning decision last week that could temporarily put Farmington Meat Processing out of business.

Michael and Nikki Long had applied to have .45 of an acre rezoned from residential agriculture to neighborhood business. The request came after a neighbor had complained to the county’s zoning department that the business shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

The decision to delay came after County Attorney Ed Vogler received a letter on Friday prior to Monday’s meeting. The letter, from an attorney representing two nearby property owners, claimed that the rezoning would be spot zoning and against the county’s own guidelines. The business is located at the end of three private drives. “That brings some concerns to me in looking at our zoning ordinance, and I think … until we can get some further information …,” Vogler said.

Commissioner Benita Finney said the Longs had been following county guidelines since they opened. “This is unexpected,” she said.

County planner, Adam Barr, first contacted the Longs in January after receiving the complaint. The county’s ordinance, he said, would allow for sale of farm products produced on the farm by the Longs, but not for the sale of outside products. The store sells all North Carolina made farm-based products.

“It is considered a bonafide farm,” Barr told commissioners. “As I’m sure you’re aware, that status does exempt it from several local zoning regulations.”

The zoning request was suggested, Barr said, to get it more in line with what the business is and what the Longs expect it to become.

The county’s planning board recommended unanimously that the rezoning be approved.

George Marthinuss said he filed the first complaint, stating the business is on an unpaved, private road shared via private easement with several property owners.

“This is not about the Longs, or their business, it is not about the grant from the state or whether they say they helped with the meat supply chain during Covid. It isn’t about whether Mr. Long helped the high school biology department. The only thing, the only thing that this is about is whether a fraction of a parcel should be changed from RA to NB,” he said. “Without regard to the Longs, changing would allow many business uses from restaurants to dry cleaners to retail, in the middle of a rural neighborhood with no public road.”

His wife, Sharon, also spoke, saying the couple moved to the area because it was peaceful and remote.

“It’s one car or truck after the other, and that can go on all day long, as long as the store is open,” she said, estimating as many as 20-30 additional vehicles a day on the road when the store is open. “It has already changed the nature and the character of the neighborhood.”

Another nearby property owner, Ken Stanberry, said the county should do more to help families stay on the farm.

“We support Michael and Nikki as they grow their agri-business,” he said. “I hope county commissioners see Michael and Nikki’s endeavor as one designed to help Davie County residents pursue economic opportunities, become better stewards of the environment and enhance their quality of life.”

Michael Long said he has pretty much maintained the road easement that leads to the business. “I guess my neighbors forgot that when winter time rolled around and we had snow. I got on the tractor and I scraped the road for them.” He installed pipes to prevent road flooding. “It’s an easement,” he said of the road. “Everybody’s welcome.” He said he’s seen multiple vehicles on the road of people who weren’t customers or residents.

“We’re trying to do something good for the county, offer something that noone else does. We’re just trying to do a good thing.”

Eric Taylor, another landowner, also spoke in favor of the rezoning. “You’re restricting something that came way before any of us … trying to make a living on a piece of property that we really don’t want somebody else telling us what we can do with.”

Nikki Long said they obtained permits, and followed directions from officials along the way.

“On a busy day, we might have 20 cars,” she said. “On a slow day, we have one.”

She said she understands that the traffic bothers a neighbor who doesn’t help maintain the road.

The letter that Vogler referred to was written by Bradley C. Friesen, an attorney representing nearby property owners George and Sharon Marthinuss and Jonathan and Shanda Sechrest.

He wrote: “The proposed rezoning is illegal spot zoning … The surrounding area is overwhelmingly rural residential, while the proposed rezoning is neighborhood business, which is inharmonius … The detriments to the adjacent landowners are severe.

“The applicants are impermissibly running a retail store in the middle of a RA zone, which has predominantly residential use. Rezoning the tract in order to cure the applicants’ violation is not a reasonable basis for a zoning map amendment.

“This limited access is incompatible with access by the fire department, which a retail store ought to have. The quality overlay requires a review of access factors, which are meant to reduce traffic problems in the neighborhood. The proposed zoning map amendment merely exacerbates the existing access problems and is incompatible (with zoning).”

Because the request was for a general use rezoning, the board has to consider all businesses that could be located on the property, not just what’s there now, Friesen wrote.

“The question before you is not about the Longs or their business. The only issue is whether this fraction of a parcel in the middle of  a residential neighborhood with no public road access should be rezoned to neighborhood business.”

Freisen also disagreed with planning director Andrew Meadwell, whom he said told planning board members that the business as is pretty much qualifies as “agri-business” and is permissible under state law.

“This is not correct,” Friesen wrote. “Davie County’s definition of agribusiness does not include retail store. ‘Agriculture’ involves the sale of products “raised on the premises,” which the applicants’ business clearly exceeds. The applicable North Carolina statue similarly defines agriculture as including the sale of certain products ‘produced on a farm’. It is simply incorrect to say that the proposed retail store is an agricultural operation and therefore that it can operate freely in this location.”

Friesen offered a solution, pointing to the county’s own comprehensive plan, which states: “Limit rural area commercial development to local convenience stores, farm supply stores, and generally accepted rural retailing establishments and require them to be clustered near road intersections.”

“The solution,” he said, “is not to adopt an illegal spot zoning map amendment, but rather to find a suitable location – adjacent to a road and congruent with the comprehensive plan – for the Longs’ business.”