Red Cross Town Council splits on vote for development agreement

Published 9:01 am Thursday, August 31, 2023

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Passions ran high as the Red Cross Town Council considered a development agreement with Joseph Burleson at a specially called public hearing Tuesday night.

By a vote of 3-2, the Council approved a development agreement with Burleson Development Group LLC to establish the parameters of a development on Hatley Burris Road.

According to the agreement, the minimum lot size for each residence will be 7,500 square feet and can not exceed 253 lots. The density of the development can be no more than three dwelling units per acre. It is zoned single family in an R-8 conditional zoning district.

Water and sewer for the development will be provided by Oakboro. Burleson Development Group will construct streets according to construction plans submitted previously.

Town Council members Andrew Smith and Lisa Lowder voted against the agreement. After the meeting, Smith said that his “heart goes out to the folks on Hatley Burris Road and Hilltop Road that have enjoyed a rural quality of life and are now seeing that taken from them.”

Lowder said she was “very sad tonight… Like I said earlier, I get emotional about it. You can think with your head, and my brain says this is the right thing to do because we are sinking more money in.”

“These people in the seats tonight deserve to have what I had here…and that’s quality of life in rural Red Cross,” she added.

In the public hearing, Red Cross attorney Al Benshoff said the Forest Creek subdivision property was rezoned in 2021 and construction plans were reviewed by town engineers in 2022.

According to Benshoff, there was some confusion about exactly what was approved for the subdivision in 2023.

He said the purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was to approve a development agreement “which is an agreement between a town and a property owner about how to develop a property.”

There were several contentious exchanges between Smith and Red Cross Mayor Kelly Brattain before the opening of the public meeting.

Smith asked about a $1,200 payment from the town to former planning and zoning officer Michael Sandy, which the mayor said was “what he considered his contract amount to walk off.”

When Smith said “we need to understand everything under the surface,” Brattain responded, “you’re just trying to get stuff started.”

Smith said because the mayor was “the primary leadership position in this town,” Brattain “should be held accountable for the things (the Town Council) done said or didn’t do or didn’t say.”

Brattain said he was “not willing to answer your questions.”

Smith said Red Cross “was in litigation with the previous planning and zoning officer hoping to recover what we believe to be town records that we don’t have.”

John Scarbrough of Scarbrough, Scarbrough and Trilling, PLLC of Concord spoke in the public hearing on behalf of Burleson.

Scarborough said Burleson petitioned the town to annex the property, which the town’s Planning and Zoning Board unanimously recommended on July 6, 2021. He said the Town Council voted on July 27, 2021 to annex and rezone the property.

Burleson’s attorney added that his client “has obtained the necessary permits and approvals for this development.” He said he was informed by town attorney that the town may have not followed the proper procedure.

“We worked with Mr. Benshoff and (planning and zoning officer Mike) Efird on this development agreement…whereas both the town and the developer wish to clarify the records of the town’s proceedings and the approvals of the rezoning and preliminary plat for their respective records,” Scarbrough said.

Twelve citizens spoke at the hearing opposed to the development, citing concerns ranging from traffic and potential capacity problems in local schools to losing the rural lifestyle currently enjoyed by citizens.

Among the public speakers were Red Cross Planning Board Chairman Lionel Hahn and recently appointed planning board alternate Heather Britt.

Benshoff answered one question from a citizen regarding the length of the development agreement. He said while the agreement was for 20 years, the rezoning was indefinite until the Town Council would change it.

After the hearing, Smith noted an email he had received from the Department of Transportation saying the previous traffic impact analysis (TIA) “apparently did not reflect the true total number of homes that has been shown.”

Smith asked Efird what a new TIA would mean for the area. Efird said “the most it would require would be turn lanes to be built.”

Later in the meeting, Scarbrough said his client would be willing to pay for another TIA.

Councilman Melvin Poole said he would vote for the agreement because of legal advice to avoid a lawsuit, adding he did not want to “throw good money after a bad decision.”

While saying he was not making an accusation, Smith asked if Burleson would be willing to put an addition in the agreement that “if at any point, [it] surfaced that money had changed hands from the developer to any town employee or associated with Red Cross that was inappropriate, that the agreement would be null and void.”

Scarbrough said he found the question offensive and that such a provision would not be usual for such an agreement. He further asked if Smith had any evidence for his insinuation.

Smith said he had no evidence and was not accusing Burleson, but said there were “a lot of things done wrong. That’s why we’re here tonight.”

“I’ve never had someone accuse a client in open session of bribing a government official. I would like you to retract that plainly,” Scarbrough said.

Smith reiterated “there is no evidence that anything illegal took place, that anyone made a payment to someone at the town of Red Cross.”

Benshoff said such an addition would be inappropriate.

Trina Plowman and Poole voted for the agreement, with Lowder and Smith voting against. Brattain broke the tie by voting for the agreement.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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