Union County

Wesley Chapel’s de-annexation debate spurs draft of bill

A de-annexation effort by some property owners has Wesley Chapel officials and some North Carolina legislators working to find a solution.

North Carolina Sen. Tommy Tucker has drafted a de-annexation bill for the property owners who petitioned him, saying their property’s current zoning – 1-acre residential lots – limits sale and redevelopment options. Tucker said he would move slowly with the proposed bill.

“This is not a done deal,” Tucker said, adding that he and N.C. Rep. Craig Horn are trying to get Wesley Chapel officials and property owners to talk.

Meanwhile, some residents are standing against the de-annexation effort.

Wesley Chapel Mayor Brad Horvath said the town is exploring the possibility of adding senior housing and allowing smaller lots. That would show Tucker and Horn that Wesley Chapel officials are serious about working with the residents who petitioned to de-annex their property, which must be done at the state level.

Wesley Chapel’s planning board has been visiting housing projects designed for senior citizens in order to make a recommendation the council could consider at the April meeting. The council also is considering adding conservation subdivisions, which permit housing lots of less than an acre if portions of the subdivision’s land are used for natural areas or common space.

The two options must be considered by the council before the current legislative session ends in July, Horvath said.

“That’s sort of our deadline, or our line in the sand, if you will. … (Tucker) will move the bill forward out of committee if he doesn’t see any progress,” Horvath said.

Tucker said if the council makes a good faith effort to work with owners, he and Horn would not take further action.

“I still believe that it can be solved on a local level,” Tucker said.

Reached by email, Horn said, “There is sufficient time for the Village of Wesley Chapel to work with these property owners to resolve the issue, but they must get a move on.”

“Senior housing and cluster development have been discussed before in the Village, and adjacent municipalities already have implemented ordinances that could easily be duplicated by the Village of Wesley Chapel to address the needs of their citizens, be amenable to all parties and bring this confrontation to a just end for everyone. I earnestly hope that they will do so.”

Tucker said he received the first de-annexation petition last May and called Horvath to talk about it.

Horvath said the original petition was signed by 10 or 12 people with a combined total of about 70 acres; since then, others have filed. He said he’s not sure of the total number of petitioners, but they own approximately 978 acres.

If de-annexed, the petitioners’ land would become part of unincorporated Union County and be held to less-restrictive zoning laws.

According to U.S. Census records, the number of households in Wesley Chapel increased from 867 in 2000 to 2,282 in 2010, with its population nearly tripling from 2,549 to 7,463 people. Estimates now put the town’s population at more than 8,000.

Developers recognize demand in the area is growing, and if the petitioners’ acreage is de-annexed, the county may approve high-density housing, Horvath said.

One of the petitioners is Becky Plyler, a Wesley Chapel council member whose home of 40 years is on 9.7 acres between Wesley Chapel’s McDonald’s and Antioch Church Road.

“Who’d want (the current zoning) next to McDonald’s?” she asked. She said she and her husband, former village council member Butch Plyler, would like their sons to have more options for the land.

“It’s because I’m looking after my children’s future,” she said.

She said she “could write an epistle” about all the misinformation she’s heard from opponents of the de-annexation movement.

What the movement is about, Becky Plyler said, is people who’ve owned land for a long time and have wanted to sell it, but couldn’t because of the village’s zoning restrictions.

Not all residents want de-annexation, though. There is an online petition with 482 signatures, as of March 19, to stop Tucker’s de-annexation bill.

Sondra Bradford, a former Wesley Chapel council member, said she created the petition on Change.org because “with (Tucker’s) bill out there, it takes out any motivation to work with Wesley Chapel.”

She created a map to show how de-annexing parcels would chop up the town. She said the new holes created by de-annexed land would mean petitioners could benefit from the village’s infrastructure without paying municipal taxes.

Bradford also expressed concern that de-annexed parcels could attract high-density housing and lead to overcrowding at schools.

Tucker said he believes senior housing and conservation subdivisions may be good solutions. They would not create any more burdens to the town or its infrastructure than the current zoning, he said, and senior housing wouldn’t put any additional demands on the school system.

“Nobody’s talking about apartments” or commercial projects, Tucker said.

“I still believe that it can be solved on a local level, and that it’s up to town council and petitioners to work something out before end of session,” Tucker said.

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