The Case Of The Ball Field Next Door

Johnston County permitted park 39 months after the fact 

What if you woke up one day and your house was next to a baseball field?

A McGee’s Crossroads couple says the influx of activity, increased noise levels and bright lighting of a field close to their property has become so daunting they were compelled to challenge Johnston County’s decision in allowing the plans to move forward.

Ray and Jamone Johnson’s petition against the county board, the McGee’s Crossroads Athletic Association (MCAA) and Johnson Memorial Church — the three entities responsible for the ball field along N.C. 50 — was heard in Johnston County Superior Court Tuesday morning.

The hearing went into the afternoon with Judge Thomas Lock ultimately deciding to delay his decision and to review the case further.

A final ruling to either uphold or reverse Johnston County’s special use permit to MCAA and Johnson Memorial Church could come before the end of the year, but an exact time frame remains unclear, according to court officials.

“From day one, all of the surrounding/ adjacent property owners were denied due process,” wrote Mrs. Johnson in a letter to The Daily Record earlier this month.

“We have stadium lights which illuminate our property, we have many people only 100 feet from our back door four nights a week during season and on Saturday, trespassing, a chain link fence with no buffering, storm water issues and the list goes on,” she said.

The couple’s dispute over the field has been ongoing since late 2014, culminating with the hearing this week.

According to Mrs. Johnson, MCAA, partnered with Johnson Memorial Church, has spent $145,350 of Johnston County bond money on the church’s property where the field is located without following proper procedures and authorization.

“Bond money was released by the county and spent by the athletic association without the property being rezoned for use as a park, which was the responsibility of the church,” she explained.

Based on News & Observer reports from 2014, the county board rezoned the property 39 months after the athletic association and church entered into a 20-year lease for use of the ball field — which the athletic association improved with the county’s bond dollars.

Johnston County officials said the field’s operation over the course of more than three years without the proper zoning was an oversight.

“Even though County Manager Rick Hester stated at the (December 2014 meeting) that this was a mistake and he accepts full responsibility for what has happened, no changes have occurred to correct the situation,” Mrs. Johnson said. “Our safe haven has been taken away from us.”

At the same 2014 meeting, stipulations were also put in place by commissioners to appease the concerns of nearby neighbors to the field. The Johnsons were mentioned specifically in some restrictions including the removal of a walking trail near their home and the installation of a landscape buffer along property lines.

Those restrictions were not enough, wrote Mrs. Johnson in her letter.

“We are hoping for an outcome that will help make our quality of life in our own home enjoyable and peaceful once again,” she said.

The church and athletic association produced a joint response letter following the Johnsons’ petition.

In the document, signed by both Johnson Memorial Deacon Board Chair Barry Honeycutt and MCAA President Robert Gordon, the groups address some specifics in the Johnsons’ claims.

“1. All efforts are being made to prevent illumination on the Johnson property. 2. The PA system has generally been used for play on the national anthem on Saturday morning and at special events. Games are not announced over the PA system,” the list begins. “3. The fields were constructed mostly on existing grass fields, and very little grading or diversion of storm water resulted from the improvements… .A majority of the vehicle lights (in the parking lot) do not face the Johnson property and the traffic that is out there falls in line with county ordinances.

“4. While we understand the trespassing issues, we have worked with the family and the county to reach a solution and that is why another layer of buffer and fencing is going up.”

The organizations also express a desire to resolve the situation amicably.

“At no time did we deliberately or intentionally step outside the law. When Johnson Memorial Church (and MCAA) was made aware of the violations, we worked diligently to bring the fields into correct zoning requirements. It continues to be our desire to see all parties involved seek a resolution to this matter and continue to serve the children in the community by allowing the use of the ball fields,” the response states.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are being represented by Raleigh attorney Andy Petesch, Jennifer Slusser is representing Johnston County and Joel Starling and Martha Bordogna of Smithfield are representing the MCAA and Johnson Memorial in the case.  Story courtesy The Daily Record