After more than two years of dispute and multiple defeats, developers of the Little River Quarry – a 90-plus acre mining facility proposed across N.C. Highway 87 from the Carolina Trace subdivision – received a boost in their efforts with a key ruling from a state Appeals Court panel.

The panel, consisting of Judges John M. Tyson, Robert Hunter Jr. and Donna Stroud,  issued a unanimous opinion Tuesday ordering that the case be sent back the Lee County Board of Adjustment “to acknowledge (Little River’s) application and prima facie showing for a (Special Use Permit) for the construction and operation of a quarry on the site…”

The final paragraph of the court’s 21-page ruling.

Essentially, the order means the county Board of Adjustment, a quasi-judicial appointed body which hears requests for things like variances and zoning appeals, will have to acknowledge that Little River met prima facie requirements in its permit application. The opinion doesn’t yet mean certain victory for Little River’s efforts, but is heavily weighted in Little River’s direction.

Options do remain for opponents of the quarry (named in the opinion as the Carolina Trace Association and several individuals, as well as Lee County government), including a petition to the state Supreme Court, or to request a full hearing of the 15-member Appeals Court. There also remains the possibility that the Board of Adjustment, if it issues the permit, can attach to it certain conditions.

The Lee County Board of Adjustment denied Little River’s permit application in March of 2016 (subscription required), voting that the company “did not prove any of the four facts it was required to prove to be issued a permit: that the land use would not endanger public health or safety, that it meets all required conditions under the Unified Develop(ment) Ordinance, that it will either not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property or is a public necessity, and that it meets the Lee County Land Use Plan which states the land use will be in harmony with the surrounding area,” according to the Sanford Herald.

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That decision was affirmed in Lee County Superior Court the following November (subscription required), an action that Little River soon after appealed.

Public sentiment has been largely in opposition to the quarry. The multiple adjustment hearings were standing-room-only affairs attended by hundreds people, mostly residents of Carolina Trace and other communities surrounding the proposed quarry, expressing worries about the environmental and economic impact of such a project. Additionally, a “No Little River Quarry” website links to a petition with more than 600 signatures and 300 comments.

And while Little River developer Ray Covington had sought in the adjustment hearings to allay concerns about the project’s environmental impact, his petition to the appeals court argued that opponents had no legal standing to oppose it. The appeals panel rejected that part of Covington’s petition.

Read the entire opinion here.