Council OKs zoning for water tower
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Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013

Council OKs zoning for water tower

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- COURTESY OF UNION COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS
This rendering from Union County Public Works shows how the proposed 1.5-million-gallon water would look at the Hemby Road site. Town officials recently approved zoning that would allow the tower.

Weddington’s water tower won’t be built in the center of town. But it may continue to be the center of controversy as Weddington voters head to the polls in November.

After an emotionally charged public hearing Oct. 14, the Weddington town council unanimously approved the conditional zoning application necessary for Union County Public Works to build a 1.5-million-gallon water tower on Hemby Road next to the Providence Volunteer Fire Department.

The vote came at 11:10 p.m., more than four hours after the hearing began. The hearing was held at Weddington High School to accommodate a larger crowd than town hall can handle. Town Administrator Amy McCollum said 140 visitors signed in and 35 signed up to speak.

Peter D’Adamo, a consultant for Union County Public Works, started the public hearing with a presentation about the town’s pressing need for a water tower. He said the need was first identified in 2005, and more than 30 potential sites in Weddington had been evaluated since 2007. Two of the sites were presented to the town council and denied, he said. He said the Hemby Road site met all the requirements, and a tower could be built there by summer 2015 if approved by council.

The Hemby Road site was opposed by a large group of residents who hired a lawyer to help them fight the proposed location. The lawyer, Chris Duggan, also lives nearby.

Duggan argued that the water tower belongs in the town’s commercial center, not in an area surrounded by neighborhoods. He said the city should hold a referendum so citizens can vote on where the tower should be.

He and other opponents of the Hemby Road site said they worried that approving the water tower would be a first step toward commercial zoning in the area. Opponents also expressed concerns about declining property values.

“Why does a decision need to be made tonight? Why can’t the site be voted on by citizens?” John Mendes said.

Many of the comments by the opponents of the Hemby Road site were greeted by applause and loud cheers by members of the audience.

When it was Dawn Panzeca’s turn to speak, she told a noisy group in the audience that she found their reactions “a little offensive,” considering the daily struggles she and her Rose Hill neighbors face with low – and sometimes no – water pressure. She said it’s a problem they’ve dealt with for seven years, and she urged the council to approve the site and not allow additional delays.

Mark Schmidt, who lives in Stratford Hall, also stressed the urgency of resolving the town’s water problems. He said he does not consider the aesthetic concerns to outweigh the risks of not having sufficient water pressure for fire hydrants and homes.

Rose Hill resident Phil Klien said “... at 10:40 p.m. on Oct. 14, 2013, I’m still being denied an essential service: water. It’s time to fix this problem.”

Councilwoman Barbara Harrison moved to approve the zoning request with a list of conditions. One is that no writing will appear on the tower.

Asked for her reaction after the vote, Panzeca said she was relieved and grateful.

“The reality is no location will ever pass muster with a number of groups for a number of reasons,” she said. “As a result, those struggling with the lack of a basic amenity have become victimized by a vicious cycle of opposition and objection. I was encouraged that everyone recognized the need but dismayed that they ignored the urgency and rights of all residents to an adequate water supply.”

Duggan said, “As you can imagine my clients are disappointed with the board’s decision. We are currently in the process of determining our next steps, which may include requesting a court to review the process and decision of the board .”

Political undertones

Panzeca characterized the council’s vote as “courageous and ethical.”

“They made a difficult, unpopular decision for the right reasons and stood their ground, despite the personal implications for the incumbent members in an election year,” she said.

Councilmen Werner Thomisser and Daniel Barry are up for re-election. Their opponents are Don Titherington, who spoke at the public hearing, and Michael Smith, who did not.

Titherington urged the council to reject the conditional zoning request for the tower.

Mayor Walker Davidson, who votes only to break a tie on the council, is not running for re-election. The candidates for mayor are Scott Robinson and William Deter, who both spoke at the hearing, acknowledging the difficult decision facing the council and the need for community involvement.

Asked later if the water tower might be seen as a dividing line in the upcoming election, Robinson and Deter said some people might see it that way.

“The water tower is the highly visible, emotional issue that’s out there.” Robinson said. “The bigger issue is commercialization.”

He said he does not support widespread commercial growth.

Deter also said commercialization is a driving issue in the campaign, and he thinks it should be confined to the town’s center.

But the water tower may still be resonating with some voters on election day.

“I certainly believe that the (water tower) issue will be a factor for many residents in the upcoming election,” Duggan said.

Panzeca said she’s planning to research all the candidates before she votes, but says that the council’s vote “definitely works in (the incumbents’) favor…It is really tough to sit on a council and inherit a problem that is 8 years old.”

Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jane? Email her at jbduckwall@gmail.com.

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