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CAEF rezoning approval is not recommended

Thursday, October 10, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Henry County Planning Commission voted Wednesday to recommend that the county board of supervisors not approve a rezoning request for a parcel in the Patriot Centre industrial park.

Board members cited best use practices in their 5-0 vote, which came after a majority of people who spoke during a public hearing supported the change. One member of the six-person commission was not at the meeting.

The Children of America Educational Foundation and its founder, Roy Simon, sought the rezoning of the more than 80,000 square-foot former Compton Wood Products building and its 15 acres at 901 Hollie Drive (Lot 7) in the Patriot Centre. They would like the property rezoned from Industrial I-1 to Limited Industrial I-2.

The Industrial I-1 designation is for manufacturing, warehousing and shipping facilities. The I-2 designation includes buildings that see primary use as an office building.

Plans are to use the facility to house the nonprofit foundation, which will work primarily with youth.

The foundation would offer two programs for youngsters, said officials who spoke during the hearing: a mentoring and tutoring program, and a financial incentive program aimed at providing a monthly stipend to at-risk students to keep them in school. The incentive program would start with seventh-graders, with participants given $100 per month. The monthly amount would increase by $100 per grade level per year the participant remained in school and met other requirements, according to Candi Murray, one of the speakers during the half-hour public hearing. Murray said she has been with foundation 40 days but did not elaborate on her position.

By the time a participant graduated — and provided he or she did not spend any of the monthly stipends — the student would have accumulated $21,000 to use for college expenses or for transitioning into the workforce, Murray said.

Also, Murray said, classrooms would be built in a portion of the building, and one teacher hired per 10 participants. Participants would be taught journalism and other courses, she said.

The organization also has spoken with a soccer coach at Carlisle School, and Murray said the coach was on board with plans for the facility to house an indoor soccer area for students to practice, especially in winter.

According to the organization’s rezoning application, the building would be a “full-service multisport complex” to serve the sports needs of the Martinsville/Henry County community and surrounding areas.

Others to speak in support of the rezoning were Garland Smart, who owns the property; Donna Edwards; and Johnnie Peters, the foundation’s vice president.

Jay Edelen, a co-owner of property across the road from the Compton facility, said he “would not stand in opposition” to the rezoning.

Henry County Planning and Zoning Director Lee Clark told the commission that county staff did not recommend approving the zoning change due to concerns about its compatibility with the surrounding industrial park property. In the staff’s opinion, according to a copy of Clark’s prepared remarks, “this is not the ‘highest and best use’ of the Patriot Centre and Bowles Industrial Park given the amount of investment the public has made in the development of the industrial parks” such as road construction, installation of public water and sewer, and more.

Bowles Industrial Park is near the Patriot Centre.

Clark said staff members also are concerned about the safety of mixing large truck traffic with personal vehicles “that might not be experienced in traveling in an industrial park, especially teenagers that may be involved in the educational classroom aspect of this proposed use.”

Clark also referred to the zoning ordinance on Limited Industrial District I-2, which says the intent of that zoning designation is “‘to encourage low intensity industrial and heavy commercial uses compatible with adjacent uses of lesser intensity.’ In my opinion, that is not what we should be encouraging in our premier industrial park.”

Also speaking against the rezoning request was Mike Seidle, a former supervisor, who said he was either chairman or vice chairman of the board in 1996 when the Patriot Centre was conceived.

“It was conceived as an industrial park only. Period,” Seidle said. “I think it needs to remain an industrial park. I don’t think it needs to be a dance hall.”

Seidle’s last comment referred to items listed as fundraising activities on the zoning application, including weekly arts and crafts, community church basketball games, a telethon call center, cookoffs, musicals, plans to seek sponsorships from race car drivers, entertainment, and dances with live music in several genres.

Simon, who also spoke in support of the organization, asked what prompted the dance hall reference.

He said that was not something the organization had said it would do, and that there would be “no dancing, no drinking” and no other undesirable behaviors at the facility.

Simon said he gave $240 million last year “to people I don’t know.” He did not elaborate during the hearing.

The planning commission’s recommendation now goes to the board of supervisors, which will hold a public hearing on the matter during its regular Oct. 23 meeting.


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