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Bunker Hill rezoning approved

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By John Barnhart

Bedford County's planning commission and board of supervisors approved rezoning at a joint meeting last week that clears the way for the old Bunker Hill Plant to once again be used for industrial purposes.

The plant, which has been vacant since July 2001, is in an AR (agricultural/residential) area, a zone that does not permit industrial or commercial uses. The two boards' action rezoned the 16.44 acre property to AV (agricultural village center). Howard Noel, who owns the property and wants to relocate his granite counter-top business there, has proffered that no new buildings will be built for residential purposes. Some existing efficiency apartments at the plant, originally used by visiting company officials, will be available as accessory apartments.

In addition to his business, Noell hopes to rent out other portions of the facility to businesses that need refrigerated storage. The plant has a total of 5,000 square feet of refrigerated storage space.

According to George Nester, director of community development, the AV zoning was chosen rather than one of the industrial or commercial zonings because this area does not meet their density requirements. The AV zoning does have some restrictions, but will not unduly restrict Noell. Any new business there would have to go through the special use permit process, giving the board of supervisors control.

The planning commission does not expect traffic to be a problem. Noell will employ 10 people at the site and District 6 Planning Commissioner Robin Hartman noted that, when the plant was in operation, it employed between 150 and 200 people.

"I'd just like to say I'm glad to see the building used for something," commented District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek.

The rezoning passed with a unanimous vote by both the planning commission and the board of supervisors.

A proposal to make animal shelters a permitted use in the zoning ordinance had a rougher road. Animal shelters were not previously in the zoning ordinance's permitted use table and needed to be added in order to make it possible for the Bedford Humane Society to build one. Mary Zirkle, the county's chief of planning, told the two boards that the language that planning staff developed allows animal shelters, with a special use permit, in all zones in which a kennel is allowed. It followed the same guidelines as kennels.

County Attorney Carl Boggess noted that the Humane Society's shelter does not replace the county's animal shelter, but supplements it. State code allows organizations, that meet state code, to have a role. Picking up animals based on complaints will remain the job of animal control.

There was some opposition from the planning commission, which eliminated the PRD (planned residential district) as one of the zones in which an animal shelter is permitted.

"I'm not a PETA person," commented District 7 Planning Commissioner Curtis Stephens. "We have a pound, we have animal control, we don't need anything else."

Stephens, who said he felt that adding animal shelters as a permitted use is unnecessary, cast the lone dissenting vote when the planning commission approved it. District 3 Planning Commissioner Steve Wilkerson was not present.

When it came to the board of supervisors, Roger Cheek and District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard wanted to keep animal shelters out of all residential areas. Cheek said that he has a neighbor who has four or five hunting dogs.

"They drive me crazy," he said.

District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler questioned where animals would be put if they are to be kept away from people.

"On my street alone, there are probably 50 dogs and 25 people," he said.

"I don't want to go down that street," he added.

Pollard moved to bar animal shelters from all residential zones, a move that Wheeler said would make sure animal shelters could only be in commercial zones. This, he said, makes it impossible for the county to assist the Humane Society.

Pollard's amendment was defeated 4-2 with Pollard and Cheek voting for it and District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry, Wheeler, District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer and District 4 Supervisor John Sharp voting against it. Board Chairman Steve Arrington was not present.

Neudorfer then moved to add animal shelters as a permitted use to the zoning ordinance. This motion passed 4-2 with Neudorfer, Lowry, Wheeler and Sharp voting for it and Cheek and Pollard opposing.

The board's action was preceded by a public hearing, as were two other actions that night. The meeting was sparsely attended and no one spoke to the issues. As a result, Ruby Wells Dooley chastised the boards, just before the vote on animal shelters, for taking action without public input.

"This is a public hearing and they chose not to be here," replied Cheek.

"I read the papers every day and I know what's happening," commented Gary Lowry, pointing out that notices of the public hearings had been published.