Front Page: Holly Ridge Fiasco
At the Holly Ridge regular town meeting on Tuesday, October 11th, an item was on the agenda that raised some concern within the members of the community.
Wesley Wooten, of Currie, North Carolina, had requested that a text change be considered for the Town Zoning regulations.
5. Public Hearings
A. Possible Approval of a Proposed Text Amendment of the Holly Ridge Zoning Ordinance to amend Section 7-4-12 to set a minimum area of 100 acres for outdoor firing ranges and Section 7-3-26 to remove the requirement for special use permits for outdoor firing ranges within the Rural Agricultural Zoning District.
Recommendation: Action to approve a proposed Text Amendment of the Holly Ridge Zoning Ordinance to amend Section 7-4-12 to set a minimum area of 100 acres for outdoor firing ranges and Section 7-3-26 to remove the requirement for special use permits for outdoor firing ranges within the Rural Agricultural Zoning District.
Mr. Wooten is not currently listed as a property owner in the Holly Ridge city limits or ETJ and does not operate a business or reside in the city limits or ETJ of Holly Ridge.
The instructions given by Nate Rhue, the current Holly Ridge Community Development Director, were clear. The text amendment being considered did not involve any current property, annexation or re-zoning of any property. The text amendment, if changed, would affect the current corporate town limits and the ETJ.
During the presentation by Mr. Rhue, Councilman Greg Hines asked the Mayor if he could ask Mr. Wooten questions on behalf of the property he plans to develop in the future. Even though the instructions for the text amendment change given by Mr. Rhue stated that no property, annexation or re-zoning was being considered for this change, Councilman Hines felt the need to include Mr. Wooten’s comments.
Mr. Wooten proceeded to state that he was a resident of Currie in Pender County and his family had property in Hampstead. He then stated that he had purchased a farm with environmental issues because it was a hog farm 2 miles west of town on Highway 50. Mr. Wooten was stopped by the town manager who requested that the Mayor move into public hearing. Mr. Wooten, who was listed as 3rd to speak on the sign-up sheet was moved to the first position by the Mayor.
Mr. Wooten stated that he purchased the land and was willing to remediate the environmental issues as it has a current hog lagoon. He stated that he was in the sewer business and had intended to use the land as a spray field. He then discussed how the area was in need of an outdoor shooting range and stated that after speaking with Heather (Town Manager) and Nate (Community Development Director) that an outdoor range would be an asset to the town of Holly Ridge. He stated he wanted to do skeet, trap and self-defense training and to have a clubhouse.
When asked by Councilman Greg Hines why he chose 100 acres as the amount of land required for the text amendment, he stated that it was a recommendation from when he met with Nate, the Holly Ridge Community Development Director and the Holly Ridge police chief.
Even though Mr. Wooten was speaking during the public comment section, no 3-minute timer was set for him, and he was allowed to exceed that time limit without penalty. Mr. Wooten spoke for approximately 5 minutes and when finished speaking, the Mayor requested that he remain on standby for any additional questions.
Area residents that voiced their concerns included:
Guy Royal, an area resident and business owner, was very concerned about the restrictive wording of the amendment and the issue it created by not allowing anyone with less than 100 acres from having an outdoor firing range. He stated that several area residents had private ranges on their property, and he felt this possible ruling was very unfair. He stated that he has been to gun ranges all over the state and that there was absolutely no need for this to be 100 acres or more and that requirement would only hurt the individual. He stated, if this was approved, it would give Mr. Wooten a monopoly and this does not benefit Holly Ridge residents. “The only monopoly you need in America is a better product. Don’t hurt everybody else in town. Just build a great gun range and I’ll be the first one to sign up.”
Max Sholar, Holly Ridge resident and business owner spoke next. He stated that there is no need to require 100 acres. He had been approached in the past by people who wanted to put a gun range on his property and though he hasn’t decided to do it yet, he shouldn’t be punished for having less than 100 acres. He currently has a 40-acre tract and 80-acre tract of land and shouldn’t be restricted from using his land.
Christina Asbury, area resident and local realtor who specializes in land spoke about the importance and why special use permits are in place and was emphasizing the importance of keeping that requirement. She also felt that a 100-acre requirement was not necessary and was not an NRA requirement. She went into detail to explain how zoning ordinances already dictate setbacks and uses and that the special use permit is a valuable tool to ensure everything is done properly for the welfare of the community and its members. She questioned how many properties would be considered non-conforming if this was passed and if any of those people had been notified. She was stopped by the mayor for running out of time during her 3-minute allotment. Ms. Asbury also brought up the point that there are very few parcels in the Holly Ridge area that would comply with the requirement of 100 acres or more, and that there are no parcels within the city limits therefore only making this ruling a benefit of the few.
Mr. Wooten was allowed to speak again after being called up by Councilman Greg Hines regarding the acreage requirement. Mr. Wooten stated that he didn’t care about the acreage requirement and was planning on developing a commercial range open to the public and that this should not affect the private property owner who wants to shoot on their property. Mr. Wooten stated that in regard to the special use permit, based on the location of the property and that it is currently not part of the town, he couldn’t do it that way and wanted a guarantee that his investment would be secure. Again Mr. Wooten’s comments during the public forum were not timed, as the other speakers were.
Ken Bradshaw, an area resident, stated that he is not a fan of knee jerk reactions, and based on the number of people attending the meeting for this issue, he agrees that it does not need to be voted on tonight and more information needs to be shared with the people before a decision is made.
Councilwoman Pam Hall raised concerns regarding the removal of the special use permit. She stated that she was not opposed to his venue of a firing range but felt that keeping the requirement should be a necessity. She mentioned that Ms. Asbury raised some important points as to why special use permits are required. Councilwoman Hall said that she didn’t see any reason why this parcel of land would not be given a special use permit if the application was made. She also noted that Onslow County would require a special use permit for this use if he was not annexed into Holly Ridge. Councilwoman Hall then stated that she would not vote for this text amendment change as it was written. Councilwoman Hall also addressed the concern regarding 100 acres may not be a perfect square and that the person may not be able to put a range directly in the middle and that the range could be placed in the narrowest area, close to a development. Her concern was that 100 acres was not a magic number and that by removing the special use permit process this may be detrimental to a neighboring property.
The Mayor asked for clarification regarding the text amendment as it was written, confirming that as written, all outdoor firing ranges must be a minimum of 100 acres. Nate Rhue, the Community Development Director agreed with the Mayor, but incorrectly stated that all ranges would have to have a minimum of 100 square feet or more.
Councilman Greg Hines stated that apparently Mr. Wooten does not want to do this project and invest any money unless he can be guaranteed a special use permit, which the council is unable to guarantee prior to an application.
Councilman Dexter Sholar stated, “Well, I don’t want to play the lottery without winning it either, but sometimes you do.”
Councilwoman Hall stated that starting any business is a leap of faith and that there are no guarantees for success.
Upon completion of discussion, the Mayor read the amendment aloud and Greg Hines called for a vote. Dexter Sholar seconded the motion. Councilman Hines voted in favor of the text amendment change. Both Councilwoman Hall and Councilman Sholar voted no. Councilwomen Stanley and Bragg both voted yes. Councilman Sholar is seen turning to ask both Councilwomen Stanley and Bragg if they understood what they just voted for. With 3 votes of yes, the amendment was approved to the disbelief of those in attendance.
At the end of the meeting, Holly Ridge resident Belinda Sholar approached the podium and asked for clarification. She asked if she had 20 acres of land, could she still apply for a range with a special use permit. Councilman Hines said she could and was soon corrected by Councilman Sholar, who stated that she now needed 100 acres or more. Councilman Hines disagreed and asked to have the amendment re-read to him. He was told it had just been read aloud by the Mayor and he asked to hear it again. He was then told by the Community Development Director that he in fact voted for the amendment as it was written originally. Even though there had been a discussion to change the proposed amount of land required, it had not been formally changed prior to the vote. At no time before the vote had Councilman Hines, Councilwoman Stanley or Councilwoman Bragg asked for the amendment to be formally changed.
The town manager asked the town attorney if the amendment could be revisited after realizing that certain council members may have been confused about what they had voted for. The Community Development Director believed there was a way for the town council to propose a text amendment that would not require a 12-month waiting period.
Councilman Sholar appeared visibly frustrated and stated that he would have a text change prepared for the next meeting.
After completion of the meeting, the 3-council people that voted yes were contacted by the Topsail Times Newspaper for comments.
When asked why he called for a vote on the text amendment, Councilman Greg Hines stated, “I wanted to give the man his range,” When asked if he was working on a text amendment to allow gun ranges with less than 100 acres with a special use permit, he said he was not. His plan was to leave that up to Councilman Dexter Sholar. He stated that he voted for what he voted for.
Councilwoman Caroline Stanley stated that she was confused about what she was voting for. She stated that since the meeting however, she would be working with the other council members toward amending the text to include smaller parcels of land not requiring a special use permit for a gun range. She stated that Mr. Wooten had mentioned that he would be building a multi-million-dollar gun range on his property with a gift shop, clubhouse and possibly a strip mall. She was asked if she had seen a plan for the property that included those items and she said she had not.
When Councilwoman Rena Bragg was contacted for a comment, she stated that she was currently dealing with a back injury and was unable to talk due to the pain medication she was taking. It is not known when the back injury occurred.
When the Onslow County planning department was contacted to see if Mr. Wooten had previously made a request to have the special use permit requirement removed from an outdoor firing range application in the county, we were told he had not. The planning department did not show any record of Mr. Wooten contacting them in regard to his property. As of this time, the property Mr. Wooten owns is in the county and is not in the city limits or ETJ of Holly Ridge nor has it been annexed in. There is currently no application on file for the annexation.
The Onslow County planning department confirmed that a Special Use Permit would be required if Mr. Wooten submitted an application for an outdoor gun range in Onslow County.
Update: Topsail Times Newspaper was notified by the Town Manager and Community Development Director that a new text amendment would be on the November 8th agenda and would be up for public comment at the December 13th meeting.
The Town of Holly Ridge records their Town Council Meetings, which occur on the second Tuesday of each month. In case you missed this meeting, you can view the recording here:
The minutes pertaining to this article are 15:15 through to 1:04:07and 2:10:40 through to 2:15:10.
This article is a part of Volume II, Issue 22 which will be available Friday, October 21st. Expect this article to be updated below with our electronic newspaper upon availability.