Lincoln County Commissioners approved a rezoning request Monday night (Oct. 17th) that will allow Sunbelt Rentals, a company that rents construction equipment, to locate on the east side of NC16-business north of the intersection with the northern end of Pilot Knob Road. Sunbelt Rentals has often operated locations inside Walmart stores including the Walmarts in Lincolnton and Conover. For Denver, they want to open a 4500 sq. ft. stand-alone location about 300 feet north of the Pilot Knob intersection. To do that, they needed to have the 2.32 acre plot rezoned from Neighborhood Business to CZ-General Industrial.
County Planning & Inspections Manager Josh Grant told the Lincoln Herald that CZ-General Industrial is different from other General Industrial in that it requires that the site plan as presented be followed. Grant said Sunbelt needed the CZGI classification because of the storage they needed for equipment they will rent. Although they could legally rent larger equipment, Grant said Sunbelt says this location will primarily rent only equipment that might be used by homeowners. "They are also required to have an 8-foot fence around the storage area," he told us.
Commissioner Bud Cesena made a motion Monday night to follow the Planning Board's recommendation, a 7-1 decision recommending that the rezoning request be denied. That motion died without any other support. The other three Commissioners, vice-chair Milton Sigmon, Cathy Davis and Anita McCall then voted to approve the request.
Sigmon said while the County's Unified Development Ordinance doesn't allow more industrial zoning on NC16-business, this is "not really industrial; it's a retail establishment." Commissioner Davis said she understands that any kind of development, business or otherwise, is not currently popular with residents of the area, but thinks this store that will rent lawnmowers, chain saws, etc. will be popular with homeowners who will want to rent rather than having to buy items they don't need long-term. "It's geared toward the homeowner market."
Sigmon said Lowe's, located on NC73 a short distance away, can already offer rental equipment. "So what are we going to do, tell these folks they can't have the same kind of business." Sigmon said the argument presented in a handout at the October 3rd meeting by former County Commissioner Martin Oakes that this is 'spot zoning' "doesn't hold water. This is not spot zoning." Oakes called it 'spot zoning,' and said approving it would be illegal, threatening a lawsuit if it was approved.
In addition to Oakes, three other people spoke against the rezoning at the Oct. 3rd public hearing. George Barr, representing the East Lincoln Betterment Association, called the request 'egregious,' and said the engineering firm that was hired by Sunbelt is also involved in the County's current process of rewriting its Unified Development Ordinance, which may raise ethical questions. Linda Ostergaard and a representive of Grace Church next door to the proposed location also spoke in opposition.
Commissioner Carrol Mitchem is currently hospitalized and was unable to attend the meeting. "If Carrol had been here, the vote would have been 4-1," Sigmon told us.