The Rockingham County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to rezone 192 acres on US 220 to Highway Commercial at the Monday, Aug. 21 meeting.
The rezoning request had attracted so many opponents that four overflow rooms were used in the Governmental Center in Wentworth.
In speaking about the rezoning request, the Rockingham County commissioners emphasized property rights and the fact that the US 220 corridor had been designated as an area for economic development growth for decades. They noted that the taxpayers of Rockingham County had spent millions of dollars to provide water and sewer service to the area as well as upgrading the roads to make it more amenable to economic development growth.
Commissioner Kevin Berger said, “Everything I’ve heard in the past was, ‘it’s my property and I can do what I want with it.’ I heard about referendums tonight, talk about referendums on property rights. That is certainly against everything that I ever heard before.”
Commissioner Houston Barrow said, “Out of all the messages I received, nobody has ever mention the landowners.”
He said that the commissioners didn’t have the ability to hold a referendum and that the idea of a referendum on a rezoning issue went against the concept of property rights and everything American.
A group of opponents hired an attorney from Asheville, Brian Gulden, to represent them, and Gulden questioned the validity of the rezoning application since it lacked a statement about why the rezoning request was reasonable.
He also noted that because this was a straight rezoning request from Agricultural Residential to Highway Commercial, the commissioners had to consider all of the uses that were permitted in Highway Commercial and that some of those uses would not be beneficial to the area.
The opposition was mainly opposed to the development of the site as a casino complex. It is a widely held belief that the plan is to build a casino on the property, and in June, Rockingham County amended its zoning ordinance to allow “electronic gaming operations” in the Highway Commercial district.
But the rezoning request was not to rezone the property for a casino, but to rezone the entire 192 acres to Highway Commercial, a zoning district where one of the multitude of uses now allowed is “electronic gaming operations.”
However, currently building a casino on the site would be illegal according to North Carolina law. The rumor is that the state law will be changed to allow casinos in three counties – Rockingham, Anson and Nash. But no bill has been introduced in the state legislature to make casinos legal.
Will Quick, with the Brooks Pierce law firm, representing the developer and the property owners, noted that there were no site plans and a determination of what would be developed on the site had not been made by the developer.