Resident raises ethical question as Cana Road rezoning request OKd

Published 1:50 pm Tuesday, November 22, 2022

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

In discussions that took several twists – including the questioning of whether a board member should be allowed to vote – county commissioners on a split vote approved the rezoning of some 105 acres at Cana Road and US 601 North from residential and agricultural to industrial.

The discussion started when County Attorney, Ed Vogler, read the ethics policy, asking if any board member had personal conflicts with any item on the agenda. Commissioner Terry Renegar said he would make a statement when the rezoning matter was set to be discussed.

Then, during the public comment session of the meeting, Cindy Wilson questioned whether Renegar had a conflict of interest, saying a company he was a partner in, Easystreet Properties, had purchased land adjacent to the tract in question in January of this year.

“I feel that this is a conflict of interest,” Wilson said. “Mr. Renegar, for you to be sitting on the board and voting on this or making a decision on this, that you have a personal vested interest in property adjacent to this industrial park … If it is zoned industrial, you stand to make quite a bit of money, and in addition to some other properties this year, you’re looking pretty good. You’ve got a great cushion going.

“It has the essence and the appearance of impropriety for you to be up here voting on something you own property adjacent to,” she said, adding that it looks similar to inside stock trading.

Reneger spoke when the board began discussing the issue, which it had delayed a decision on last month after a public hearing.

Renegar said he is involved in several businesses, one of which needed land for a building and the search began in 2021. Several parcels were considered before owners of the US 601 North parcel agreed to sell.

“They wanted to get rid of it, and, as a bonus, it’s zoned highway business, which was perfect.”

He said the company plans to build there, and he has no relationship with the Blackwelders (family requesting the industrial zoning) or the company which plans to develop it.

“I don’t think this rises to the level of conflict,” he said. “I talked to Mr. Vogler about it, and I would ask him to weigh in on this.”

Vogler read from state statutes that a board member should not vote on any legislative decision: “… where the outcome of the matter being considered is reasonably likely to have a direct, substantial and easily identifiable financial impact for the member.”

Vogler also said that if an objection is raised to a board member about a possible conflict, and they do not recuse themself, it is up to the rest of the board to vote on whether that member should participate.

“It seems to me, somewhat common sensical to understand that the rezoning of this might appreciate the value of the property that was purchased in January,” said board member, Mark Jones. “Clearly, there’s conflict here. I don’t know if it’s purposeful.”

A member of the county’s economic development council, Jones said he had “real problems” with the current request.

Commissioner Benita Finney said she was upset that the matter didn’t make the forefront until an editorial in the Enterprise Record was published (The editorial did not mention Renegar by name, but said if the allegation was true that all should be up front about it.).

“As a board, we need to be forthcoming and transparent,” Finney said. “Any of us, if we own property anywhere near a rezoning, it shouldn’t take an editorial in the paper for us to come forward. We need to maintain the trustworthiness of the citizens.”

Reneger said the issue never crossed his mind until he was made aware of the editorial. “I would have appreciated a phone call. Noone ever called me.”

Finney also said it appears that neither Renegar or Easystreet Properties was notified about the potential rezoning by mail, which is required by county rules to be sent to all property owners prior to the rezoning hearing.

Commissioner Richard Poindexter then talked about the importance of industrially zoned properties.

“Everybody seems to know the critical importance of having all the industrial and commercial property that we can get in the county to offset the cost of residential property that’s building in the county,” Poindexter said, adding that Vogler had said there was no conflict.

The property in question has long been identified as a growth area, and an area for industry, Poindexter said. If the board isn’t going to follow the county’s written and well-researched plan that economic developers recruiting business to Davie also use, then it doesn’t need to go to the trouble of forming them in the first place.

“If we don’t listen to what they say and work with them (economic developers), then we really don’t need them,” Poindexter said. “It’s so important we support our land use plan, our economic development council, and our economic development director.”

Poindexter made the motion to allow Renegar to vote. Board chair, James Blakley, made the second. Jones and  Finney voted against the motion. Since law requires a majority vote, the tie vote meant Renegar could vote on the issue.

Finney made a motion to deny the rezoning request, which was seconded by Jones. “I think the citizens have spoken what they wish for their community,” Finney said.

The motion failed 3-2.

Poindexter made a motion to approve the rezoning. Renegar made the second, and it passed 3-2.

“If we don’t want any more growth, we just need to say we don’t want any more growth,” Renegar said. “That’s an issue. But, if we’ve got people coming into our county with capital to deploy, or access to capital, that’s going to create jobs in the area that we’ve identified for growth, then his (Poindexter’s) point is valid. We need to give them their due.”