Business’ parking lot has residents up in arms

First Posted: 1/15/2009

LUMBERTON -- A local Hospice group's plan to move into a house at the corner of Roberts Avenue and Walnut Street has neighborhood residents fuming.
About 20 residents met Tuesday night at the Lumberton Rescue Squad building with Lumberton City Councilman Erich Hackney, City Manager Todd Powell, Planning Director Sheree Hedrick and three company officials.
Community Homecare and Hospice bought the house and plans to move there from its current location on North Elm Street. The land is actually two lots: a front lot on Roberts Avenue zoned for business and a back lot facing Elmhurst Drive that is zoned residential.
The residents are upset over plans to install a four-space parking lot behind the house, on the residentially zoned property.
A stop order on the construction was lifted Friday when city officials determined that it was legal for Community Homecare and Hospice to install the spaces. A backyard swimming pool has been filled in and construction has started on five more parking spaces on the side of the business-zoned part of the property.
City officials told the residents that nothing can be done to change the company's parking plans, because their plans are legal. Some residents said that left them feeling irate and defeated.
“We got nothing done,” said resident Jan McCormick. “We vented some frustration, but I still think there are going to be more problems, more accidents around the park.”
The property is across from Jerry Giles Park, and residents said they were concerned about children being at risk from cars pulling in and out of the Hospice parking lot.
According to Hedrick, R-15 property, or single-family residential zoning, can legally have up to four parking spaces.
“There does have to be a buffer, but they can put it anywhere,” Hedrick said.
Hackney, who called the meeting, said the city was trying to protect the rights of both sides, the business and the residents.
“They did what they were authorized to do as a legal landowner,” Hackney said.
Not a new problem
The property has a history of creating disagreements in the neighborhood. In 1988, several of the lots facing Roberts Avenue were rezoned for business after about three years of feuding between property owners.
“We fought the zoning thing,” said resident Ron Jones, waving his hand around the room to include everyone. “We don't want to see any type of commercial building come into our neighborhood.”
Jones said his problem with the issue is that the company gets to use both of the properties for the business.
“We were told it would be used as two different pieces of property,” Jones said. “They're getting it both ways. We'd like to keep the look of the back lot residential, rather than business.”
Residents told city officials that what was going on at the property went against what they were told in 1988 could be done after the rezoning. Residents were given copies of minutes from the meeting when the rezoning was passed. The minutes showed none of the promises that residents said existed. The minutes also said that no residents spoke against the rezoning.
“These minutes are totally wrong,” Jones said. “The city attorney at the time was my nephew. He knows.”
City Manager Todd Powell told Jones that if his nephew could make an affidavit to that effect, it might make a difference.
“What I guess I need to apologize for is what happened in 1988,” Hedrick said. “But we have to allow them to use their property.”
Councilman Bruce Davis, who was the councilman for the area at that time and until this year's redistricting, said this morning that he couldn't recall any of the stipulations that the residents brought up. He said that, the way he understands it, the business is acting legally.
“You couldn't use the back if you entered on the front, and you couldn't exit on the back, so they're entering off Walnut Street and leaving off Walnut Street,” Davis said.
Company officials speak
Hospice officials talked with residents at the meeting to do their best to smooth things over.
Stan Figlewski, a representative of the company, told residents that no patients would be seen at the facility and that there generally would be few cars at the office, since most of the work done by nurses and social workers takes place at the patients' homes.
“We're going to be a good neighbor,” Figlewski said. “We're going to make the property look better than it does now.”
Figlewski said the property would eventually have less paving in the back yard than when the pool was there. A fence, which is already in place between the pool and Elmhurst Drive, will either remain in place or be moved closer to the house, Figlewski. Residents encouraged the Hospice to move and raise the fence higher.
“What we're asking for is not legal consideration, but consideration for the neighbors on behind,” said resident Larry Gore.
Figlewski answered by saying, “We have a buffer, and we plan to plant shrubs along the fence.
Community Homecare and Hospice has six other offices, according to Figlewski, with offices of varying sizes and types. The other offices are at Clinton, Dunn, Elizabethtown, Fayetteville, Sanford and Smithfield.

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