Much to the relief of thousands of residents in the Pleasant Garden area, the time and date of 5 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 19 has come and gone.
The reason there was so much happiness over the 2017 calendar marching past that date is that it was the last day for Texas-based construction materials company Lehigh Hanson to file an appeal of a November decision by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners not to allow a granite quarry at a proposed site near Pleasant Garden.
Last month, the board voted 8 to 0 not to rezone the property, a vote that prevented Lehigh Hanson from moving forward on the project. That decision was met with thunderous applause, shouts of joy and a public prayer of thanks in the Board of Commissioners meeting room in the Old Guilford County Court House.
However, despite that celebration last month, there was still a good deal of uneasiness among the project’s opponents because the board’s decision could have been overturned by Guilford County Superior Court on appeal. However, based on the fact that the Dec. 19 deadline has now come and gone, Lehigh Hanson has presumably decided not to pursue that course of action and instead chosen to let the land remain as is.
Lehigh Hanson supplies aggregate, cement, concrete, asphalt and other building materials for construction projects in the US, Canada and Mexico, and the company gets its product from quarries such as the one proposed for the site near Pleasant Garden. On Thursday, Nov. 2, the commissioners shot down the company’s rezoning request. Had the board approved that request and a subsequent special-use permit for blasting at the site, it would have allowed blast mining on about 60 acres of a 350-acre area in southeast Guilford County near the corner of McClellan and Racine roads. If the commissioners had approved that zoning request, it seems likely that property owners in the area would have appealed the case to the courts.
In 2000, the land was rezoned to be used as a clay mine for Boren Brick. That rezoning, which is still in effect, designated the land “heavy industrial.” However, that zoning limited operations to mining clay; it didn’t permit a granite quarry.
Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne wrote in an email a few days before Christmas, “It does, in fact, appear that it is past the deadline for appealing the decision. I am not aware of any appeal that has been filed.”
Guilford County Planning Director Leslie Bell also confirmed that nothing had been submitted to the Planning Department as of Dec. 22. It’s possible Lehigh Hanson could file an appeal after the deadline, but that’s a rare move and, if it happens, the company would face a new legal hurdle since the appeal wasn’t submitted by the court’s deadline.
Payne wrote, “To my knowledge, the county has not dealt with any request to accept an appeal out of time but I think we would handle it the way the courts do. I.e., filing an appeal out of time will be denied except upon a motion to waive time and such waiver is only given upon a showing of extraordinary circumstances justifying the lateness.”
The Rhino Times asked Lehigh Hanson’s attorney Tom Terrill, of Smith Moore Leatherwood, about the company’s decision not to file an appeal by the deadline and he responded in an email, “I have no information to pass along.”
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said he was something of a goat in the Pleasant Garden area these days because he made some positive comments about the mining operation before recusing himself from the discussion and the vote. (Branson would have been a lot more vilified by the residents if the Board of Commissioners hadn’t rejected Lehigh Hanson’s request.)
Branson said that, since the commissioners’ Nov. 2 decision, he “hadn’t heard a lot of anything or anybody.”
He said the decisive vote by the board may have discouraged an appeal by the mining company.
“My guess is that a unanimous 8-to-0 vote led to that,” Branson said. “If it had been split down the middle there would have been some fireworks going on.”
Branson said he thinks now that there may be an effort to develop some of that quarry property into residential neighborhoods, especially if the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite gets a giant tenant that brings a lot of jobs just south of Guilford County.
“If the megasite hits, they may put some of that land on the market,” Branson said.
Attorney Chuck Winfree, of the firm Adams & Winfree, led the citizen-based opposition. Winfree said he and the residents who fought the rezoning were relieved when the Dec. 19 deadline came and went.
“We checked the courthouse Tuesday at 5, and, as of that time, we didn’t see anything, so I believe it’s dead right now.”
He said that “technically,” Lehigh Hanson could try to refile a project in modified form or come back in a year to refile the same proposal, but he added that since the commissioners had a unanimous vote against the request, it was unlikely the issue would be revisited. Like Branson, Winfree said that if the vote had been split down the middle, there may have been an appeal.
Winfree said the residents in the Pleasant Garden area had done a very effective job in fighting the proposed mining and blasting project. He said that a citizen-made video showing traffic concerns and other concerns of the resident had really helped in the appeal.
In September, the Guilford County Planning Board had voted to allow Lehigh Hanson to move forward with the request, which was one that county planning staff recommended as well, but the Board of Commissioners has the last word within Guilford County government.
Lehigh Hanson argued that the quarry would bring jobs and provide construction materials for area projects without disturbing the lives of people who live and work near by. However, the commissioners said they were concerned about the potential effects on well water supply and quality in that part of the county, as well as about the increased trucking traffic on narrow roads in that area.