By Richard Sullins |

It’s a story that has been told many times, but one that deserves telling again because the circumstances this time around are a little different.

The question of whether to allow new housing developments is typically decided by the city of Sanford because most applicants seek annexation in order to gain access to water and sewer services. But next Monday, May 2, it will be Lee County Commissioners making the decision on whether to allow two new developments in areas of the county far outside the city’s boundaries.

The first is a 24.5-acre tract in southwestern Lee County on the western side of Steel Bridge Road, between Bridges Road and Waterfall Lane in the Pocket community. The land is owned by Moore HL Properties of Pinehurst, who hopes to turn it into a 29-lot residential subdivision and asked the commissioners to rezone the property from Residential Restricted (RR) to R-20 in order to maximize the number of lots on the tract.

The new community would be known as The Cove at Steel Bridge Road.

Public hearings on repurposing land to bring in a new housing development always seem to draw a crowd, but the pleas made by surrounding landowners seemed especially poignant this time because they were made by people who were fighting to hang on to land that had been in their families for generations and to preserve a way of life that many of them had fled the cities to enjoy.

Lou Layton of Cool Springs Road spoke to this issue as the commissioners received public comments during the hearing. She wondered how much consideration the developers had given to issues of clean water, soil erosion, and traffic concerns.

“We already don’t have adequate county services for fire protection and police services,” she said. “This is just going to make a bad situation worse.”

Byron Wortham runs one of the largest wildlife rescue operations in the state and spoke about the impact of development projects in rural areas on wildlife. Wortham, who presently is caring for 17 owls at his home who were either hit by a vehicle or displaced, asked for consideration to be given to animals whose homes are disappearing.

“Are you really concerned about wildlife?” he asked. “Because I haven’t seen it.”

And Keely Wood of Angel Wood Road implored the commissioners, “please don’t make an exception for every builder who wants to put up a development in Lee County.”

But another speaker, Michelle Guarino, framed the issue perhaps the most clearly by saying, “this is an emotional thing that you guys need to hear, because it’s not that we are against a development containing 36 sites. We’re against a development, period. We don’t want it. And we look to you to protect us … this appears to be an ethical dilemma. It seems as though the developer and the people that have drawn the plans – it’s a done deal. Who’s here to protect us?”

A second proposed development of 216.18 acres with frontage on Buckhorn Road about three miles northeast of Broadway drew a similar response. The owner, Eddie Clifton Stallings of Greenville, plans to convert the tract from its present usage for managed timber to the development of a subdivision containing 130 single-family lots. About 75 acres of the property is said to be undevelopable land.

The project, tentatively titled the Buckhorn Road Subdivision, would be done of the former J.B. Wilkinson estate by Montague Development. Documents filed by the owner with the county say “the current zoning allows 105 dwelling units and this request is for a net increase of 25 dwellings to 130 total dwellings that still provides the country side feel.”

The rezoning request is to convert the classification from Residential Agricultural (RA) to Residential Restricted Conditional Zoning District (RR-C). There is a six-inch water along the boundary of the property that could be used for water, but septic systems would need to be used since there is no existing sewer line in the area.

Once again, environmental concerns were foremost in the minds of neighboring landowners, such as Hugh Worrell of Buckhorn Road.

“I’m concerned about pollution,” Worrell said. “The topography of that land is shaped like a bowl that funnels the water into Daniels Creek and then into the Cape Fear River. This proposal should have triggered an environmental impact study but apparently it didn’t. I think this project is ill-conceived and it should be denied.”

Lloyd Smith, the plant manager at the Abzena facility in Sanford, is also concerned about the impact of 130 homes on a rural area.

“We know that growth is coming, and everyone needs a place to live,” he told the board. “But consider what you are seeing and what you are understanding. That property lies next to the Cape Fear River Basin, and we should all be concerned about the runoff from all those homes into that area.”

Wayne Lett, also of Buckhorn Road, brought another concern. Noting that 130 houses will be home to nearly that many families having children, Lett said the board should give thought to the strain that such a large number of school children would have on Broadway Elementary School and on buses that are already forced to travel on narrow county roads.

In both cases, staff determined the projects did not conform to the recommendation of its long-range plan for development and found that they were not in such unique locations as to believe that a reasonable expectation that the property could be developed at a higher density of homes than currently allowed.

Ultimately, though, it is up to the commissioners to decide whether they are comfortable with the proposed developments at these sites and those decisions could be made at their next meeting on Monday, May 2, at 6 p.m. at the McSwain Center on Tramway Road.