By Holly Fesperman Lee
SPENCER -- Spencer will start from scratch and hold a new public hearing to consider a conditional use permit for the proposed High Rock International Raceway.
The backwards step comes after town officials discovered a conflicting provision in the zoning ordinance that may have raised questions in court.
Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association filed a petition in Rowan County Superior Court on Sept. 1, claiming that the town zoning board didn't follow proper procedures when members issued the original permit in August.
After the petition was filed, Spencer town staff went back and looked at the language of the ordinance, according to Town Manager Larry Smith.
For years the zoning ordinance has required the town to advertise all public hearings in the local newspaper at least 10 days prior to the hearing with the ads appearing at least once weekly for two consecutive weeks, Smith said.
In addition to the passage pertaining to a 10-day notice, officials found another passage that reads, "Notice of the public hearing shall be posted on the property for which the petition is sought and in a local newspaper at least 15 days prior to the public hearing. This legal notice shall describe the request and appear at least once weekly for two consecutive weeks."
Smith said the 15 days notice is an error that possibly occurred when town ordinances were revised and updated in 2003.
"There was no knowledge of it until this came ... we followed the procedure that's always been the ordinance," Smith said.
The town did give notice of the hearing 10 days before the original public hearing, according to Smith, but the advertisement ran twice in one week rather than once in two consecutive weeks. "It evidently got in too late," Smith said.
According to Smith the town wants to make sure all their bases are covered. "We don't want to nix an application because of a technical argument. The biggest thing I think is to take any question off of it," he said.
Smith also said the town is in the process of amending the ordinance to take out the erroneous passage.
Derek Allen, an attorney representing Trading Ford, said from his point of view, the town is going to reissue the conditional use permit because officials know the original isn't valid.
Even though revisiting the application process may have some impact on part of Trading Ford's argument, Allen said other parts of the case wouldn't change.
Ann Brownlee, President of Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association, said the redo "kinda seems like it's an admission that they didn't do it right the first time."
Brownlee said she hopes town officials will adhere to ordinance requirements this time and give fair consideration to the value of historic sites.
Trading Ford members contend the track would destroy a key Civil War battlefield.
In its petition, the historic preservation association asserts:
* The board failed to provide required public notice of the hearing in the local newspaper, with signage on the property and with letters to adjacent property owners.
* High Rock Properties failed to present "competent, material and substantial" evidence that it would comply with ordinances on air quality, noise, lighting, security, traffic, buffering, setback and fencing.
* That the racetrack proposal contained no substantial evidence "supporting the conclusion that the proposed racetrack will not adversely impact surrounding property."
* That substantial evidence was not presented to support the conclusion that granting the permit "would not violate the spirit or intent of local zoning laws."
* The application sought approval to develop property outside Spencer's zoning jurisdiction.
The public hearing to consider a conditional use permit for the race track is set for 7 p.m. on October 5 at the Spencer Municipal Building.
Contact Holly Lee at (704)797-7683 or firstname.lastname@example.org.