City leaders are also requiring the developer to work with concerned neighbors while developing the plan.
The vote came near the end of a two-hour meeting in which members of the Tabernacle Baptist Church and Christian School community packed the seats and lined the walls of the chamber as people pleaded with the council to give them more time.
The proposed rezoning involved changing the zoning from a medium density residential classification to a planned development.
The developer intendeds to build 279 housing units — a combination of townhomes and cottage-style homes — on the property, which will be called Flowers Ridge. The maximum number of units they can build is 289.
One of the streets that would lead to the new development is 13th Street NE, which currently serves traffic from Tabernacle Christian School.
The use of that street was a major point of concern for people associated with the school and church, Tabernacle Pastor Scott Hooks told the council during the general comment period.
“My only request is that this zoning situation be tabled and that we sit down together — Tabernacle Baptist Church, Tabernacle Christian School, the developers and the city of Hickory — and we work out an agreement,” Hooks said.
Hooks added that Tabernacle is in the process of purchasing the Sandy Ridge Square shopping center across 13th Street from the school. The shopping center contains J. McCroskey’s Irish Pub & Grill and was once home to a Lowes Foods supermarket.
More than a dozen other speakers, most of whom had some type of connection to the church or school, echoed Hooks in asking for the process to be put on hold so the parties could come to an agreement about the road, with several people citing concerns about the children who attend the school.
Hickory Planning Manager Cal Overby told the council in his presentation that the action before them only involved changing the use for the property and did not entail final approval of land plans. A developer could construct around 140 homes at the site without having to go through a zoning hearing, Overby said.
Under questioning from City Manager Warren Wood, City Attorney John Crone and council members, Overby said the planned development process would allow for more city oversight and collaboration with other stakeholders.
Councilman Tony Wood asked Overby if the rezoning would lead to a “more deliberate, examined use of the property as opposed to how it currently is zoned?” Overby said it would.
Overby also said the ability to use the streets would remain the same regardless of whether the zoning stayed the same or changed.
The N.C. Department of Transportation would have involvement in reviewing plans as well since 16th Street and 29th Avenue Drive NE are both state roads. Thirteenth Street NE is a city street.
Despite those assurances, a number of people remained confused or concerned about the process and what it could mean for the school.
“What is collaboration?” Hooks said. “Because I was told that collaboration does not necessarily mean agreement and it is simply hearing our concerns and, as you know, people can hear our concerns and discount them.”
Nicholas Parker, a professional engineer representing the developer, told members of council the developer would meet with the neighbors.
Parker said the developers had already demonstrated their willingness to work with community members, pointing to conversations with other neighbors that resulted in them changing site plans to include a berm on part of the property.
“We want to do more projects in Hickory,” Parker said. “It does not behoove us to go against the wishes of the neighbors in the community.”
He added that he considered ensuring the safety of the children a priority and professional obligation.
The council ultimately voted to approve the rezoning while also stipulating that the developers must meet with the Tabernacle community and other area stakeholders in a process facilitated by city staff.
Mayor Hank Guess and council members Tony Wood, Charlotte Williams, Danny Seaver, David Zagaroli and Jill Patton voted in favor of the rezoning.
Councilman David Williams voted against the plan. He said afterward that it would not hurt to wait a little to give residents more confidence.
“It seems like a lot of those citizens are confused,” Williams said. “They don’t trust the process, and I think that we should take some more time.”
Kevin Griffin is the City of Hickory reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.