by Bob Geary
Catching up with our story from a week ago, "North Raleigh residents fight quarry expansion," the Raleigh planning commission voted 8-1 in favor of Martin Marietta Materials' rezoning application, finding that it's in the public interest to let the company use a 97-acre tract it owns as a dump site for its RDU quarry rather than be required to comply with the city's comprehensive plan and the residential-commercial zoning that MMM itself sought for the property in the '90s.
Residents in the nearby Wyngate neighborhood say they bought their homes believing that MMM would develop the acreage as houses and a shopping center they'd like to have. That's what the current zoning on the tract calls for. If it's used as a quarry dump, the value of their homes will be hurt, they believe.
MMM argued that it's running out of places around its RDU quarry to dump the "overburden" — the dirt and loose rocks that come off when it blasts down to the granite. Adding the 97 acres to its quarry operations will allow the company to expand the actual quarry slightly and dig deeper, extending the quarry's useful life from about 20 to perhaps 45 years without the need to truck the overburden to some other location.
The upshot for Wyngate residents: Not an appealing neighbor, but rather one whose property they're barred from entering that over time becomes, at best, an 80-feet high forest of scrub pines.
"I personally think a hill with trees on it is not a detriment to the community," planning commission member Steve Schuster said. Nor, he added, is MMM under any obligation to develop its property at all — so Wyngate residents shouldn't have been counting on homes or stores going there.
Another commission member, Erin Sterling Lewis, went even further. Development along the lines of the current zoning is merely "hypothetical," she said. If Wyngate residents wanted to argue that MMM should be held to residential and commercial uses, they should've come to the planning commission with a buyer for the property and a plan to develop it in that way.
Taken as a whole, the comments of the eight members who voted with MMM amount to saying that the company has a right to use its property the way it wants to — whether that use complies with the comprehensive plan and current zoning or not — as long as any harm to neighboring properties is sufficiently mitigated. "It bothers me when I hear a property owner (i.e., the Wyngate HOA) tell another property owner what to do with his property," commission member Quince Fleming said.
Only Waheed Haq, ordinarily a reliable pro-development vote on the commission, dissented. Haq said Martin Marietta sought the zoning it now wants to ignore, giving Wyngate residents grounds for their understanding that the tract wouldn't be quarried or used in connection with the quarry.
Moreover, Haq said, if MMM wanted the zoning changed, it should've come forward during the city's rewrite of the comprehensive plan in 2007-09. Instead, it was silent and the new comp plan calls for the land to be used as zoned for housing and some retail.