Town Board Overrules Staff Recommendation And Approves Rezoning

Attorney John Whitley points to a parcel of land he owns at 317 S. Third Street in Smithfield on a Town of Smithfield zoning map. Planning Director Stephen Wensman (background) listens to Mr. Whitley’s comments. Photo

In a unanimous vote, members of the Smithfield Town Council have approved a request by a local attorney allowing a residential home be used as his law office.

Attorney John A. Whitley requested a zoning map amendment to allow a 0.11 acre parcel of land and house he owns at 317 S. Third Street be rezoned from Residential (R-8) to Office and Institutional (O/I). The property is at the corner of South Third Street and Woodall Street.

The Planning Department staff and Planning Director Stephen Wensman had recommended to both the Smithfield Planning Board and Smithfield Town Council they deny the rezoning, stating it was inconsistent with the Growth Management Plan “…and that the request is not reasonable and not in the public interest.”

The planning department said the parcel shares a driveway with a residential lot to the east, is entirely within the 100 year flood plain, and would likely be considered spot zoning.  Wensman recommended denial of the request saying the lot was only 4,792 square feet and the minimum lot size allowed in an O/I district is 6,000 square feet.  He said off-street parking and handicap accessible parking being able to meet town requirements for an office use would likely be difficult, given the small size of the lot, and creating the need for variances from the Board of Adjustments.

Wensman said the rezoning could be considered as spot zoning, which is prohibited.  He added that a landscape buffer is required by the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and that would also be difficult to install because of the small lot size and shared parking access at the rear of the lot.  Planning staff also said the rezoning was inconsistent with the comprehensive land use plan and “…would be an encroachment of commercial uses into a residentially guided and zoned area.”

Despite the planning staff’s recommended denied, the Smithfield Planning Board voted 6-1 to approved the rezoning.  In the planning board meeting Mr. Whitley said his law business does not generally have a lot of vehicular traffic and besides his car and his secretary’s car, there should never be more than a couple of cars at the business at any given time.  Whitley said the front of the property was ground level and it could easily be made handicapped accessible.

In the April 2nd Smithfield Town Council meeting, Councilman David Barbour questioned if the rezoning would stay with the parcel after Mr. Whitley no longer used the building as a law office. “It’s what comes in behind you. What will happen then?”  Wensman told Councilman Barbour the rezoning would stay with the parcel regardless of the owner.

Town Attorney Bob Spence addressed the planning director’s concerns about spot zoning. Spence said there was an adjacent travel business and in his opinion didn’t believe Mr. Whitley’s request was spot zoning.

Councilman Emery Ashley questioned the planning staff’s concern about parking. “What business in Downtown Smithfield can provide parking?”  Ashley said he had no problem with the proposed use, stating a residence next to the courthouse many years ago is now in use by Johnston County as an office.

The Town Council voted 7-0 to approve the rezoning request. The planning director said Mr. Whitley’s next step will be to submit a site plan. If Mr. Whitley is unable to meet all ordinance requirements he will need to go before the Smithfield Board of Adjustment to seek variances.