HAMPSTEAD – An Atlanta-based land managing company’s request to rezone hundreds of acres here for the purpose of mining sand on various portions of the property will go before the county planning board no earlier than April.
The Pender County Planning Board recently tabled its consideration of the conditional rezoning request from its meeting set for Tuesday, instead pushing the matter to its April 7 meeting, one that will be held at the county’s Hampstead annex instead of Burgaw, the county seat.
The date and venue change were made after more than 150 people showed up at a Feb. 18 informational meeting hosted by Jamestown Properties in the Hampstead Branch Library. The room in which the meeting was held was not large enough to accommodate that size crowd so attendees were broken up into smaller groups to sit through what turned out to be three back-to-back meetings.
The property company is asking for a conditional rezoning of a little more than 560 acres from planned development to rural agriculture for the purposes of mining sand on about 175 acres in Hampstead, an unincorporated area in the eastern part of the county that has experienced tremendous growth over the past two decades.
Jamestown’s land abuts residential properties, including the Castle Bay subdivision, a high school and middle school and, a portion of Holly Shelter Game Land.
The proposal has been met with fierce opposition from residents, parents and teachers.
More than 800 people have signed an online petition started by Hampstead residents Peter Rawitsch and his wife Stacy Kitt.
The couple, who live in Castle Bay, are continuing to go door to door, where they’ve collected over 300 signatures, to get more.
Company representatives have not yet addressed several concerns, including the hours during which mining would occur and the proximity of mining areas to the schools’ ball fields.
Residents have questioned whether mining will impact groundwater wells and expressed worries about the potential adverse health effects of breathing silica dust and exposure to diesel emissions and noise from truck traffic generated in mining operations.
A Jamestown representative told attendants of the Feb. 18 meeting that the company had conducted environmental studies, Kitt said, but that those had not been made available to the public.
A company representative did not return a call seeking comment.
Travis Henley, Pender County’s interim director of planning, said the company has, at some point, completed environmental studies.
“There were certainly some from years ago,” he said.
Jamestown had very different plans for the land several years ago: a mixed-use development of more than 800 single-family homes as well as commercial space.
That plan fell through after the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or WMPO, filed a “protected corridor” map for the N.C. Department of Transportation to build a bypass around the community to ease the heavy congestion on U.S. 17 through the community.
The corridor divides the property in a way that would allow for 30 residential units under the county’s Unified Development Ordinance, according to the developer’s rezoning application.
Jamestown filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the planning organization and NCDOT. Two years later, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled the state agency’s move unconstitutional and that the company was not fairly compensated.
The courts have not determined how much the state owes the company.
Henley said the county planning department will require the company to submit environmental studies before the planning board’s April meeting.
“We have asked the applicant for a more detailed view of what the buffers will be,” he said.
According to the company’s application, plans would include preserving a large area bordering the game land for endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, or RCW, and planting longleaf pines.
John Carpenter, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s RCW Safe Harbor Program coordinator, reviewed a map of the proposed sand mine site and said in an email that mining activities would not impact existing groups of the endangered birds on the Holly Shelter Game Land.
He noted the proposed woodpecker protected area, “but it is unclear what the intended and long-term purpose of that acreage is.”
“If approved, this re-zoning would potentially limit our ability to manage our lands more effectively, most notably through the use of prescribed burning, as does most recent residential development around the game land,” Carpenter said in the email.
If the planning board approves the rezoning request, that request will then go to Pender County commissioners.
When that may be has yet to be determined.
“It’s an evolving context for sure,” Henley said. “The planning department’s always open so if anyone has questions, call. If they want to meet about it, that’s what we’re here for.”
If the county approves the rezoning request and site plan, the developer will have to obtain an operating permit from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
Permit applications are reviewed by the state air quality, water, parks and recreation divisions as well as state wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.