Woodfin – In a narrow 3-4 vote, the Woodfin Planning & Zoning Board handed developer Jamie Lopez a defeat to build a 115-townhome project at 300 Baird Cove Thursday, September 24, even with several experts testifying to the project’s worthiness and viability, it wasn’t enough to overcome the expertise of actually living on Baird Cove Road. The hearing was held at Newbridge Baptist Church’s gym as two other planning and zoning meetings the week before.
Lopez and his lawyer, Craig Justice with Van Winkle Law Firm, offered expert witness after witness to attest to all the criteria that would allow the development to proceed. The right zoning, the traffic study, the stormwater, the landscaping and real estate experts. However, in the end, Attorney Barbara Bowers, who spoke to the board for residents of the cove against the project, and a few citizens were able to argue their opposing view and convince four of the seven members of the board that this development was not in the best interest of the community.
Much like a court proceeding, the hearing got underway with swearing-in of witnesses for both sides with Lopez’s development team’s witnesses taking much of the available space inside the church’s gym as the number of people allowed inside was limited due to state COVID protocol. More than 60 people of the community remained in their vehicles outside, waiting their turn to petition the board and speak against the development.
Lopez’s team took about an hour to make their case with one of the project’s selling points to the board being that this would be affordable housing with the price for a 1,259 square foot townhouse beginning at $249,000. “These are not ticky-tacky houses,” said Lopez.
Bowers and her witnesses disagreed in their statements to the board, calling the townhomes nothing more than “rowhouses.” She also talked about Baird Cove’s beauty and said that the project violated the town’s ordinance in a number of ways, including safety, overcrowding and greenways and park space. “Each one of these aspects are crucial to a safe inhabitable environment. This development violates each and every one. As the planning and zoning board, you have an awesome responsibility…you have the power to protect the town,” Bowers said. She also cited a petition with more than 2,000 names of people who oppose the development.
Justice continually objected to the board, pointing out that Bowers’ side offered no evidence, only feelings and opinions that should be disregarded as they had no place in the hearing. Justice also objected to the petition. “For the record, I have to object to the petition. This conditional-use permit is not a popularity contest. If it was, I would have gone out and gotten three thousand signatures,” said Justice. he also said out of all the signatures, only 18 of them were Baird Cove residents.
Board Chairman Ken Razza said he realizes that, which is why he asks those speaking if they are a Woodfin resident. “I appreciate that Mr. Chairman. I’m just trying to keep it to the rule of law because we’re going to have a lot of passion here and it’s about evidence, not about what personal feelings are.”
Due to technical difficulties
One of the reasons the board was holding the meeting at the church is because the church has a short-range FM transmitter, which the congregation has been using for services in the open field due to COVID. The board was hoping to keep those waiting to speak in their vehicles informed of what was going on in the meeting. However, technical difficulty caused the session not to be broadcast.
The problem was eventually fixed but not before those outside became disenfranchised so being left out with most ended up leaving. After both sides ended their testimony and Razza learning of the problem, he apologized and asked the board attorney Joe Ferikes if the board should postpone the vote. Ferikes thought under the circumstances that they did not.
Several of the board members asked questions of Lopez, specifically if he was willing to be flexible in his development, which he indicated that he was saying he would build trails up the hill as part of a greenway for the development.
When the vote was called for, those voting for the development included Theresa Stoker, Steve Santangelo and Jay Grimmett. Those voting against were Jeff Angel, Razza, Dean Hittleman and Patrizia Hoffman. The defeat could find its way into the courtroom, which is the next level of appeal.