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Elm Street plans finalized

By Shannon Beamon, for the SNAP

Residential developers and the Locust City Council signed off on a 247-house site plan on Elm Street Thursday.

The council approved a preliminary agreement with developers in June, but since that paperwork required 70-foot lots instead of 60-foot, developers had to modify their plans before they could get final approval.

Those revised plans were presented at the end of July and approved unanimously at the council’s last meeting.

“Developers lost 35-40 lots (to lot-size requirements),” City Manager Cesar Correa said.

That reduced the project’s density from 2.17 houses per acre to 2 houses per acre, he added, the new standard in Locust according to a zoning amendment passed last month.

Hopper Communities said it decreased the impervious surfaces within the development to 24 percent. After talking with the N.C. Department of Environmental Equality, this allows them to remove several run-off retention areas known as BMPs. Some of those areas will be used for lots instead.

Moreover, without the retention areas, they will be able to reduce the amount of grading needed for the project, they said.

However, nearby resident Joel Whitley argued that the adjustments are not enough.

When Hopper Communities originally requested approval for its development, Locust’s ordinances stated no major grading is permitted in such developments. And even with the removal of retention areas there are several areas that will require cutting and filling in the new subdivision, he said.

“I feel like I’m the only person in the room that’s trying to make sure that the rules in this matter are being followed,” Whitley said.

Council members did look into the question of major grading before approving the preliminary agreement with Hopper Communities in June.

However, since they could find no official definition for the term in their ordinances or in legal precedent, they felt they could not deny developers on that basis. If a city turns away any business for reasons outside their ordinances, it opens itself up to a lawsuit for discrimination.

Whitley argued that does not excuse it from keeping the spirit of the law.

“Flattening is flattening,” Whitley said. “The way the council has handled this issue is not the way the citizens of Locust consider acceptable.”

About a dozen other residents have expressed opposition to the development at council meetings over the past four months. A Facebook page for the “Neighbors against Elm Street Project” has garnered more than 60 likes and nearby residents recently started posting signs in their yards that read, “We Oppose Elm Street Project.”

A larger sign also filled in the back of Whitley’s truck when he came to the council meeting Thursday.

“I refrained from speaking last time … but I’ve had just about enough,” Councilman Rusty Efird said. “Riding around with this on your truck isn’t doing anybody any good.”

Mayor Steve Huber also felt the need to speak up.

“I hate the fact that this issue has become a personal issue,” Huber said. “When you come up here, you are exercising your rights as a citizen of Locust, a citizen of North Carolina, a citizen of America…. I respect that. If you want to be upset, be upset. But please do it in a professional manner, that’s what I ask.”

Whitley protested that he was not there to attack anyone.

“I am the only one up here telling the truth about this issue,” he said. “You’re just hoping it will go away. It’s all about revenue at the expense of the people to you. Just about money.”

For more details on the final site plans, visit the City of Locust website at www.locustnc.com/city-newsevents/.