Wesley Chapel gets marching orders, accommodate or else.

Last night (March 30, 2015), Wesley Chapel Mayor Brad Horvath held an town hall meeting before crowd 60+ citizens and the media to discuss from his perspective, the issues surrounding the de-annexation petitions and its current status.

Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Brad Horvath
Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Brad Horvath

It wasn’t until early January 2015,  that the “de-annexation” petitions from Wesley Chapel property owners came to public light. Mayor Horvath related in his comments last night, that he became aware of the petitions when Sen. Tucker called him in May of 2014. Horvath stated that none of the petitioners have contacted any member of the town council, (including a councilperson Becky Plyler, who recently filed her own petition to de-annex), prior or since Sen. Tucker’s initial call, to complain of an issue that drove them to seek to de-annex. According to Mr. Horvath, Sen. Tucker at the time, did not request that the town do anything, but he (Sen. Tucker) had yet to decide how he would handle the petitions. It wasn’t until January that list of petitioners was actually presented to the town.

In subsequent meetings before the Town Council, petitioners did come forward and a few offered their reasoning: primarily the limited types development permitted under Wesley Chapel zoning.

In early March, Sen, Tucker filed a bill (S214 -Link) to de-annex approximately 71 parcels/900 acres from the heart of Wesley Chapel.

Map prepared by Sondra Bradford
Petitioner Properties marked in red (Map prepared by Sondra Bradford)

As I mentioned above, the crux of the issue is zoning, namely Wesley Chapel’s R40, one house per acre zoning, which in the case of some of the de-annexation petitioners prevents them from maximizing the value of their land. In reality, the ringleaders of the de-annexation petition would prefer to be subject to County zoning rules which are much more lucrative for developers, especially in light of the recent decision by County Commissioners that permitted high density subdivisions near the airport. (Readers should put these high density subdivisions in context with school overcrowding and the draconian redistricting experience last year.)

Government should not be in the business of augmenting the value of property to the benefit of “connected” landowners and to the detriment of the remaining citizens and the future of the town.

A little history..

Many of the small towns in Union County were created from the same fear of being annexed by a bigger town. The Town of Weddington and the Village of Marvin were incorporated to prevent Charlotte encroachment, while Wesley Chapel was concerned about Indian Trail’s involuntary annexation intentions.

Excerpt concerning the formation of Wesley Chapel from Bill Lee's History of Wesley Chapel.
An excerpt relating to the formation of Wesley Chapel from Bill Lee’s Book, the History of Wesley Chapel.

Motivating the town

In the meantime, Mayor Horvath, most of the council-members and a growing number of Wesley Chapel citizens are working to forestall  the de-annexation bill by any means they can.

Clearly, the next stage are largely dependent on the actions of  Senator Tucker and by extension, Representative Craig Horn. Both State officials have stated that their only motivation is find a way to solve the problem locally, but they feel the town needs to be more accommodating and communicative with the petitioners.

The other side of the coin

In my discussions with Sen. Tucker today, he justifies his action with the argument that he is just representing his constituents, who feel the town zoning is too narrow and restrictive. Paraphrasing Sen. Tucker, straight R40 zoning doesn’t offer landowners and perspective buyers sufficient latitude.  In response to my challenge concerning the coercive nature of the suggested resolution via new zoning ordinances, Sen. Tucker responded by saying that he is not asking the town to do anything that they weren’t either already working on or could accommodate without violating their base R40 zoning. Both his points are true.

Senator Tucker stated that because of the rules of the Senate that he would be moving the bill out the Rules committee before the cross-over deadline at the end of the April.

How do you like them apples?

So if I understand correctly, the town is being “told” that if they create a couple new zoning ordinances (Age-restricted, “over 55” housing and clustered subdivisions), that would satisfy the demands of  both our elected state officials and the disgruntled petitioners.

STOP and think about that a minute.

It so happens that the planning board of Wesley Chapel has been working on an “Over 55 – restricted housing subdivision ordinance for some time and recently sent their recommendations to the Council for a public hearing and vote.

Typically, this is how new ordinances are developed. It’s not complicated, it doesn’t take heavy-handed manipulation from Raleigh. Ordinances are developed based on needs as realized by the planning board, elected council members or via text amendments requested by citizens.

The de-annexation effort would have fallen flat on its face were it not for the support Senator Tucker and the way the General Assembly members typically support the “Local” bills of other members. Local bills don’t require the Governors signature to be come law, so there are no “veto” concerns, either.

Whats the worse that can happen?

If all the parcels on the Senator Tuckers bill were de-annexed, how would that really effect Wesley Chapel?

Initially, Wesley Chapel will suffer a revenue loss, both from a reduction in ad valorem property taxes, utility franchise fees it collects and sales tax.

In the long term, the damage will be to the continuity of the town’s land use planning and master plan, falling prey to the political winds that influence  County Commissioner zoning decisions. All those 900 plus acres would be figurative donut holes in Wesley Chapel’s land use map. Wesley Chapels tax paying residents would have very little influence in what the county could or would permit on those parcels.

A great example of what could happen has already happened in Wesley Chapel!

Have you seen that monstrosity of electric substation across from the Stonegate subdivision? Well the power company first applied to the town for a permit to build a larger substation on the other corner opposite the garage property. After days of testimony by the utility and opposition, the Wesley Chapel Council turned down the permit due to the failure of the substation plans to meet the findings of fact under a “quasi-judical” permitting procedure.

Much the surprise of the Town Council and Stonegate homeowners, the power company purchased the lot on the other side of the road and announced plans to build the substation.

You see the lot on the other side was a “donut-hole”, under Union County zoning, and a use by right for a power substation, meaning the power company only had to file a site plan with the county and obtain a zoning permit — a simple matter.

Regardless of your viewpoint on the value or need of a substation, the will of the local community was circumvented.

There are many instances of use by right in Union County zoning that bypass the local community and don’t require legislative decisions to permit.

What should the town do?

Simply put, considering the downside — whatever Sen. Tucker and Representative Horn say to do.


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