In an unexpected development, Statesville City Attorney Ed Gaines has informed the city council that hearings on proposed site plans require a formal quasi-judicial process, rather than the less formal legislative hearings the council has been conducting for years.
His reading on the law came about as part of the city’s legal research concerning the proposed Love’s truck stop near I-40. The Love’s application has already gone through two years of litigation and is now back in the state Court of Appeals.
“We’ve really never had a site plan before Love’s that caused us to take as close a look at the applicable ordinances or involved this degree of litigation,” Gaines said. At the council’s Nov. 26 pre-agenda meeting where he made his findings known, Gaines noted that N.C. General Statute 168-393 states decisions on the approval of site plans are quasi-judicial in nature.
Gaines cautioned the council members that until the site plan hearing is held, there should be no discussion on the plan among council members or with others. He also reminded the council that final decisions from a quasi-judicial hearing can be appealed to Superior Court.
Digesting this uneasily was Councilman Roy West. “I suggest that the council change the city ordinance so that, going forward, site plans will not require quasi-judicial hearings. Let’s opt out of this requirement as soon as we can.”
Mayor Costi Kutteh agreed. “With a quasi-judicial hearing, we don’t have the chance to interact with each other or with our constituents.”
Under the quasi-judicial hearing format, all individuals who speak must be sworn in by the city attorney, and the hearing must strictly focus on whether the site plan is compatible with and does not adversely affect adjoining property.
Putting Gaines’ interpretation into action, the city council conducted its first site plan quasi-judicial hearing Dec. 15, approving the site plan for a 100-room Hilton Garden Inn to be located at the northwest corner of Salisbury Road and Interstate 77.
Meanwhile, it is still unclear when the site plan hearing for the Love’s truck stop will be held. Opponents of the plan have appealed a recent judge’s decision and obtained a motion to stay, which is scheduled to be heard by the N. C. Court of Appeals on Jan. 12. The council is also scheduled to meet that day.
Gaines indicated the Love’s site plan hearing will be rescheduled, pending the outcome of the motion.