If your knowledge of land use theory comes from a textbook you might think zoning is about the right and logical use of land. But if your knowledge comes from life in the zoning battle trenches where bullets fly fast and shrapnel wounds are common, you know that zoning decisions often have more to do with the human psyche – our fears of the unknown, our petty prejudices, and our deep-seated need to protect our territory from invasion.
Occasionally I will hear about – or be involved with – battles where those who complain the loudest about the use of land are folks who “came to the nuisance,” if the use, in fact, is a nuisance at all.
The classic example in the Triad involved a rezoning adjacent to the Greensboro airport. The Airport Authority all but begged the Guilford County Board of Commissioners not to allow a proposed subdivision because it was directly in the path of the airport’s next and planned runway. The commissioners approved the rezoning anyway.
When the Airport Authority announced that the runway, in fact, would be built and that FedEx planes would be using it, who do you think cried foul and sued to stop it? That’s right. Residents in the subdivision who knew they were building/buying next to an expanding airport.
Yesterday I learned of a recent battle in Mecklenburg County that interested me partly because it involved neighbors’ complaints of farm odors and an environmentally-needed, green, recycling operation where everything from leaves, to vegetables to animal waste is converted into the mulch and soil materials you buy at any garden store.
And it also interested me because it was a classic “move to the nuisance and then complain” story. In this case, all the complaining neighbors moved into subdivisions that sprang up around the already existing farm operation and then complained that manure and natural organic mulching odors are objectionable.
You can read about Wallace Farms here. Their seven-generation farm operation (dating back to 1863) has grown and expanded over the years, and it was no secret that it existed. And you can read about some of its battles with the City of Charlotte and NC DENR that began with complaints from neighbors at this link.
I’m sure there are other perspectives and that the City of Charlotte might protest Mr. Wallace’s description of its Gestapo tactics when trying to close him down as a result of neighbors’ complaints. However, the best third-party corroboration that new neighbors moved in and then complained can be found if you Google “Wallace Farms” and kept scrolling to find a link to a website where neighbors communicate among themselves about it.
Like many of you, I have limited patience with folks who choose to create urban lives in rural areas then complain that existing farms have odors, generate dust, and often have tractors running sunup to sundown. And the same principle applies to any one who chooses to move next to an airport or a landfill, and then complains about it.
Side Bar: One of my many [nerdish?] habits is that I love to drop 50¢ in local newsstand boxes across the state to see what land use issues are making local headlines.
This was a word of mouth story that I went online to check out. Eric Wallace of Wallace Farms, it turns out, coaches a little league baseball team whose fifth grade second baseman is Hayden Murdock. Hayden’s dad, Eric, is an executive at Wells Fargo who owns a Christmas tree farm and takes time each December to sell Christmas trees from his family’s farm at a lot in High Point. Eric remembers every thing about every customer year to year and, recalling that I live my life in battles over the right and best use of land, told me this story.
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