Preserving Stanly County’s Farmland is a community action, not a legislative one.

Read that again. Now accept it and figure out how to get what you want armed with that knowledge.

This past week our board of commissioners had two of the most contentious rezoning requests I’ve seen on my four years serving the board. Two different developers wanted to develop two different areas in the Millingport district.

The facts (that matter) are these:

  • They own the land.
  • It’s zoned Residential/Agricultural.
  • They have the right to build houses on it, or use it for farmland, or most of anything in-between.

I could break apart both of these into two separate examples, but the facts are literally the same in both instances, so I’ll just use the Millingport subdivision for the purpose of illustration because it is most indicative of what is going to continue to happen in Stanly and other counties as time goes by.

Many years ago, Mr Odell Almond had 11 acres of his farmland zoned for houses. If I’m not mistaken, that was back in 1990 or so. From that moment onward, what happened this week was destined. It just took 30 years for it to happen. He broke that land up into 9 tracts designed to hold 9 homes – at least according to his plan.

Sometime later, Mr. Almond passed away and it was left to the next generation of his family. That generation isn’t farmers. They don’t want to be farmers. They have absolutely no intention of trying to make a living from 11.27 acres of farm land. Chances are they’ve been leasing it as farm land for someone else to farm for awhile now in exchange for making some small profit from the land and paying the annual property taxes. (Note: I don’t actually know if it was his grandchildren that inherited the land or not, but you see my point.)

What happened to the land?

Capitalism happened. The land might have been worth maybe $9,000 an acre, and I’m being generous with that assessment. We’ve just done some appraisals off HWY 24/27 with similar land and that was about 9.6K per acre, so 9K per acre is a generous assumption.

So this family has land they don’t want to farm and it’s valued at 9K per acre. One day their phone rings and this fellow wants to purchase it. Not only does he want to purchase it, but he offers them $28,393.97 per acre! (Yep, triple the value of the land).

Joseph Burleson bought that 11.27 acres for $320K, probably at triple its agricultural value.

Do you think those land owners are going to say no? Of course they’re not! They sold, probably paid off their homes, put some money in their kids college fund, and thanked God and grandpa Odell for leaving them that land!

This is where it gets tricky.

Now Joseph Burleson owns 11.27 acres that’s already divided to allow 9 homes according to the old deed restrictions. Well, since Joseph owns ALL the land, he’s the ability to do away with the deed restrictions. After all, he doesn’t just own one lot. He own’s the entire 11.27 acres. What Odell Almond wanted his kids to do with that land is now irrelevant. It’s Joseph’s land and he can do just about anything within the realm of Residential/Agricultural that he wants.

He decides he wants to build a subdivision.

Do I want him to build a subdivision? Oh, hell no! Do any of the other nearby owners? Hell no. Does literally ANYONE in the entire world except Joseph want him to build a subdivision there? Nope! But.. it’s his land.

I personally talked to 34 different people in that area that called or messaged me begging us not to approve the subdivision. (And I agree with every single one of their desires for that land, but none of that matters). Not a single person called me to ask the Board to approve that subdivision. Everyone in the entire county seems to be against it, myself included.

Does that matter? Not one little bit.

Here is the hard truth.

There are two options for that particular piece of land.
Option 1 (below): We rezone that land and let Joseph Burleson put 16 homes on that land all in a straight line but we have to rezone it to allow him to have lots narrower than 100′ wide for that to happen.

Option 2 (below): We don’t rezone that land and he can still put 16 houses on it but it won’t be as pretty as far as he’s concerned.

Option 3:

There is never going to be an option three. He owns that land. If he wants to build houses on it, he has a myriad of options to do so. He can do the following:

  • build 16 vinyl sided homes.
  • Slap four mobile homes in the back lots and make 12 other homes in the front.
  • Park dead motor vehicles in the lots, allow RV’s to park in the front yards, and let become a rundown trailer park if he wants to.
  • ALL of those options are available to him because we DID NOT approve his zoning request.

What folks want

What the folks WANT (this time) is for the government to tell this guy “Nope. That’s farmland and it’s going to stay that way mister!”

What’s going to happen

Not that. Not ever. And you might not believe me, but Farmers will be one of the ones that wont’ let it happen.

There are MANY farmers here in Stanly that have carved out homes for their families from their agricultural land. They rezone two acres for their personal home. Twenty years later they carve out an acre for their daughter to have a home on their family land. Then they carve out a place for the grandkids to have a small home on the property. It’s literally the American dream… to own land and be able to build your family around you. I’d love to have the kind of money to own enough land to make that a possibility for my own family.

The only way to really prevent what we’re seeing happen is to make it VERY difficult for farmers to rezone land into residential, and they’re not likely to stand for that either. There’s going to be some middle ground that comes up as a result of the new Land-Use plan when it finally gets adopted but it’s not going to see massive changes to R/A and this is going to be one of the reasons why. Maybe the result will be that we change zoning to require a minimum of 2 acres or 3 acres if you want to carve out land for a residence, but we’re not going to make it impossible for it to happen.

Law of unintended consequences

The result of this rezoning denial (and the other rezoning denial) is probably going to be WORSE OFF for those that didn’t like it, than the result would be if we’d approved the rezoning.

If we HAD approved the rezoning, these would be some rules the home owners would have to follow:

  • No vinyl siding. Homes must be brick, stone, mortar, etc.
  • Homes would have have to have at least 2000 sq feet of residential space on the first floor (meaning these would be good sized homes).
  • No mobile homes.
  • No above-ground pools.
  • No RV’s parked in front yards.
  • No abandoned vehicles in the yard.
  • They would all have county water and county sewer.
  • The county would have three more fire hydrants paid for by the developer and serving that road.
  • The county would have saved a TON of money running water and sewer under HWY 73 because the developer was going to have to do that.
  • (Tack on whatever other rules we want within reason and they would have been accepted).

Since we did NOT approve it, here’s what can go there now:

  • singlewide trailers
  • Modular homes
  • no sewer
  • no county water
  • no fire hydrants to reduce ISO rating
  • The owner can allow anything he wants that’s legal without reprisal.

Symbolism Counts in Stanly

That vote the other night to deny Joseph Burleson’s and Anthony Giordano’s developments was purely symbolic. The “county” or the “people” wanted us to vote it down. We did.

The result is that now there is no oversight and everything those two developers want is still going to get done regardless of what people wanted.

Should the board have have voted yes instead? Honestly, in my opinion, probably, but you’d never get people to shut up screaming long enough if we’d done that to explain it to them. They ONLY want to hear that we stopped the subdivision from happening. Anything less than that is going to be considered treasonous and they’d have voted you out of office! (Well, see…. I’ve already been voted out of office so I can be 100% truthful and say the stuff others aren’t going to because there’s no repercussions for me. I’m out in December, so I can be as blunt and honest with you as I feel the need to be.)

No one in that meeting would have tolerated a “yes” vote for that rezoning. It would have been a circus the moment I banged that gavel. They’d be insulting all us commissioners on social media within 60 seconds of the vote, written letters to the editor, and called us traitors.

The problem is – they don’t want to hear the truth.

The truth is – government can’t really stop someone from building a home on their own damned property. They CAN stop certain things, like making a major subdivision, but they can’t actually stop someone from building homes on land that’s zoned to build homes on.

And even if government COULD do that, the very first time someone tried to buy some property in the county and put a house on it and got denied….. it would be a circus.

Imagine the government telling you that you just bought 4 acres off Highway 73 and you’re NOT ALLOWED to build a house there because a neighbor doesn’t want to look at any new homes…..? That’s the zoning regulations that folks want, and it’s NEVER going to happen.

What’s the solution?

There is only ONE solution. It’s the same solution I’ve been telling people for years about when they get their feelings hurt over what someone else does with their property.

If you want to control the land next to you, I’d suggest you buy it!

If you live in the Millingport area and you want to be absolutely sure that farmland stays farmland, then you owe it to yourself and your community to go out to EVERY SINGLE LAND OWNER NEAR YOU and ask them if they plan to sell. If they ever DO plan to sell, you need to be sure they call you first and give YOU the opportunity to give them 300% fair market value for the land.

What? You think they’re going to sell it to you for tax value? Shiiiiiiitt son, not likely. You want the land next to you that appraises for $9,000 an acre? You’re going to have to give that person more than the other guy offered. Joseph offered almost $30,000 per acre, so if you’re not willing to offer $33,000 an acre and buy ALL of it, then you’re not going to get the deal.

The future IS written

I absolutely HATE it, but the Future for Stanly County’s farm land IS already written. It won’t last forever. I hate the hell out of it because I moved away from Pitt County to Stanly because of how beautiful it is here. But farm land??? What we have left here is small stuff in the grand scheme of things. My family grew up in farming. We call 800 acres here a tremendous farm. In other places that’s the driveway where farmers park their combines and irrigation systems.

The reality for agriculture is the same as it is for our school system. People have the belief that kids are going to come back to Stanly and pick up the old-style way of living. They’re going to become farmers and work the land. They’re going to come home from college and take a job at one of the great local businesses here. And while it’s true that “some” are, the huge majority is not. Why would they toil in the sun for 30 years to make a little money when they can remote-work from their private office in a home starting out a triple the salary they’d make after 20 years of toiling?

And whether you agree with that assessment or not, the rest of what I’ve said remains true. If you want to preserve farmland in Stanly County, I’d suggest you buy it up as fast and aggressively as you can and then you ask the board to put it into an Enhanced Voluntary Ag District to protect it for at least ten years.

The government can’t save it for you… it’s just not possible.

1 Comment

  • Posted June 9, 2022

    Brenda Outlaw

    This is a very informative post. I just hope the people will read it and understand it. Having been the daughter of farmers, like you said, the only way to insure that farming land will remain farming land is to buy it. When I go home and look around at what used to be farm land, it is sad.

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