Supervisors question developer's track record

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By John Barnhart

    A request by a developer to rezone five acres of a nine acre tract in Forest failed by a tie vote when it came before the board of supervisors Monday night.
    Fred Conner, the developer, was asking to have the land rezoned from planned industrial development to R-4, a high density residential zone, in order to build apartments there. Conner’s plan called for building 54 apartments. According to Jordan Mitchel, a planner who made the county staff presentation, this amounts to 12 units per acre, which is half of the density that the R-4 zone allows. Conner wanted the rezoning because the parcel’s topography and location makes it unsuitable for industrial development.
     The planning commission had voted 5-0, with one abstention, to deny the request.
    Residents of Manor Court and Ashwood Townhomes, two other projects that Conner had been involved with, complained that Conner never completed work at both projects.
    Carol Lee, who spoke at the public hearing on the request, said that when she bought her residence at Manor Court, Conner had made some promises that he never fulfilled. The primary problem, however was pavement on the roads in the project. Lee said only the lower layer of pavement had been laid down and Conner never completed the work.    
    “After 10 years it crumbled all to pieces,” she said.
    The homeowner’s association ultimately assessed each property owner in the Manor Court $1,000 to raise the money to pave the streets. Conner, who still owns two unsold parcels never paid his assessment. Overall, Lee said that Conner owes the association $4,000 in unpaid fees.
    “It seems unethical to me that a developer can borrow millions of dollars [for a new project] when he can’t afford $35,000 for pavement.”
    During debate, District 4 Supervisor John Sharp said that Conner’s proposal for the site he wants rezoned is a better use for the property. But, Sharp was concerned about what Conner had left undone in other projects.
    “I’m just bothered by what we just heard from the public,” he said. “Am I rewarding someone who has not done right by the residents in those other communities.”
    District 1 Supervisor Bill Thomasson also expressed concern for the tennants of the proposed apartments, noting Conner’s track record on developments.
    District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker, however, said that the issue before them was strictly one of land use. District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington concurred with Parker.
    “This is one of the toughest ones I’ve had since I’ve been on the board,” Sharp commented as he made the motion to approve the rezoning request. That motion failed on a tie vote with Sharp, Parker and Arrington voting in favor and Thomasson, District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard, and District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek voting in opposition. Board Chairman Chuck Neudorfer was absent due to illness.
    The supervisors also voted, 5-1 to raise the County Nursing Home daily rate by $10. County Administrator Frank Rogers had recommended raising it by $15 to capture Medicaid reimbursement money that the county is now losing. Thomasson made the motion to raise the rate by $10 after Rogers said that that amount would still be adequate for this year. Sharp cast the lone dissenting vote. According to Rogers, this is the first increase in the daily rate since January, 2009.