Town Council still mulling over zoning

By: By Chrysta Carroll -

ELIZABETHTOWN — The issue of zoning ordinances was once again addressed by the Elizabethtown Town Council at Monday night’s meeting. The topic has been a recurring one, and council members say they are determined to find an answer.

“We need to update our process to make it as friendly and as streamlined as possible,” said Elizabethtown Mayor Sylvia Campbell.

She introduced to the board Dale Holland from Holland Consulting Planners, Inc. of Wilmington, who came recommended to the leadership by Mary Rose of Clarkton. Holland has worked with leaders of towns similar in size to Elizabethtown, such as Wrightsville Beach, Lauringburg, Burgaw and Oak Island.

The town currently has another contract with a consulting firm, but, due to personnel turnover within the company, not much progress has been made on the town’s ordinances, and Holland was brought before the board for their consideration in hiring his firm.

“I don’t think the existing ordinances are structurally in bad shape,” said Holland. “Organizationally and structurally, it covers all the bases. How it covers those bases may not be satisfactory to people, but it’s not in bad shape.”

He went on to inform the board that, after looking over the town’s ordinances, he would recommend some changes.

“Four or five years ago, there was a long list of legislative changes, the majority of which are not reflected in your current ordinances,” he explained.

He cited one case that went before the Supreme Court involving a church in Texas that was erecting temporary signs all over town, as it moved its location each week. The Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting the signs was a violation of free speech. Holland informed the board that the decision would have a major impact on local boards, as they would no longer be able to prohibit signs based on the message.

In addition to needing to make changes that reflect current legislation, the current ordinances, he informed the board, are very restrictive and might make prospective businesses pause and reconsider their options.

He also recommended that the process be streamlined. Presently, special use permits go to the Planning Board and then must wait until the next monthly meeting of the Town Council for a public hearing. He proposed the process go straight to the board, citing potential legal problems with the multi-step approach.

Campbell raised a question about the legality of prohibiting flea markets in town.

“You can prohibit temporary vendors, but you can’t prohibit a flea market. You can place restrictions on them like signs, appearance, etc., but you must give them a place to go,” said Holland.

Elizabethtown Town Manager Eddie Madden informed the board that April’s Town Council meeting would contain on the agenda two proposals from the firm for their consideration. Holland said that rewriting the ordinances would take eight to 10 months, and, should they decide to only do a revision, a draft could be completed by July.

In other action, the board:

— Recognized the East Bladen High School girls’ basketball team for its 31-1 season.

— Held a public hearing regarding the voluntary annexation of two sites at the Industrial Park. The request was submitted by Alex Munroe, owner of Cape Fear Winery. The ordinance was approved by the board.

— Approved a proposal to participate in the Industrial Park master plan. Eddie Madden, town manager, reported that the town had received a grant from Golden Leaf for $197,000 that would require the creation of 200 jobs. Madden proposed that the town, instead, participate in a grant that would free them from the obligation to create 200 jobs but would require a $15,000 local match.

— Approved an engineering services agreement with W.K. Dickson. Madden informed the board that the current agreement only covers grant writing for engineering projects, and they sometimes require an agreement for non-engineering projects.

— Approved a request from Jay Leatherman, finance director, that a three-year contract be signed with First Bank for banking services.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Chrysta Carroll