A local company wants to expand a quarry near Ebeneezer Church Road, but nearby residents are speaking out against it, expressing concerns about their health and safety.
Martin Marietta owns 97 acres of land adjacent to the Wyngate residential community of more than 150 homes. The company has requested a rezoning from medium residential density to conditional industrial use.
By rezoning the property, Martin Marietta will get eight more acres of blasting space, while the remainder of the property would be used as a storage place for equipment and excavated dirt and rocks.
To accommodate this expansion, the company is also proposing to relocate Westgate Road further to the north and build a tunnel underneath it to move the excavated material.
The property is undeveloped, but if the rezoning is approved, there would be a 115-foot, tree-lined buffer between the site and the subdivision.
Behind the buffer zone, the company would put berms, or buffers to protect from sight and noise. The berms would not be taller than 80 feet.
Some Wyngate residents are concerned that during colder months, with no leaves on the trees, those that are closest to the buffer zone would be able to see the berms from their homes.
Ron Schwitz, who has lived in the Wyngate neighborhood for 15 years, is one resident who is opposed to the rezoning, stating his concerns for the environment and residential health.
“We have a pond in our community area that drains off into a tributary that runs right through the rezoning area,” he said. “With all the dust particles in the air, not only being a problem for our residents who have asthma, like myself, or respiratory problems, I’m concerned about what would happen [to the tributary].”
Margery Clemmer, another opposing homeowner who has lived in Wyngate for six years, is a mother of two and agrees with Schwitz’s health concerns regarding her young children.
According to Deputy Planning Director Ken Bowers, the city doesn’t regulate the quarry but that they are highly regulated by layers of state and federal mandates, which include environmental and health measures.
Paxton Badham, a Martin Marietta representative, and Lacy Reaves, the company’s lawyer, argued the company has made numerous concessions to the neighborhood including the additional buffer and limiting their blasting zone to only eight of almost 100 acres.
Badham said the area near the neighborhood would be nothing more than a depository for excavated dirt that they planned on seeding for trees.
At the request of Planning Commission member Isabel Mattox, Badham also agreed to stop trucking the material to the new storage site by 6 p.m. during the week and avoid trucking on the weekends.
But Ben Kuhn, the lawyer representing the Wyngate residents, said the concessions wouldn’t make up for the affect on the residents’ quality of life or the possible loss in their homes’ value.
The residents would not only have to live with the blasting, but with the construction of the new roadway and the berms.
“It’s really not a berm” Kuhn said.“It’s just a really big 80-foot pile of overburden.”
He added that the expansion is not in the city’s best interest and that keeping the current zoning would encourage more economic growth through increased commercial and residential properties.
Many members of the commission expressed reluctant approval for the project, noting that they understand the concerns of the neighborhood, but also feel that Martin Marietta provides a valuable service to the city and that their request is reasonable.
“This is a difficult case,” Mattox said. “I understand both sides.”
The Raleigh City Councilor from that district, Bonner Gaylord, said he hopes the two groups can reach an agreement before the issue reaches council.
Gaylord said the quarry is useful: it lowers the cost of investment in Raleigh as the materials needed for growth, such as aggregate for asphalt, are closer and more accessible, costing less to transport and attain.
Gaylord followed that with saying even though there was a need for the facility, that industrial growth in Raleigh is a supporting facet to what he feels is most important for Raleigh’s economic future investments in intellectual, cultural and education ventures.
“The city needs these facilities. How they are to fit into an urban context is the issue,” he said. “The balance of the neighborhood concern and the need for these facilities is always the question.”
The Land Use Map and Comprehensive Plan
Presently, the 2030 Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map, which guide how growth and zoning should work in the city, do not allow for this type of rezoning. Kuhn argued that there are 21 comprehensive plan policies that were not considered by staff during the application’s review.
Indeed, some members of the Planning Commission questioned using the property as storage for quarry refuse instead of using it for future commercial development.
“Why would we deviate from the Future Land Use Map?” asked Commissioner John Buxton.
But as Gaylord said, the plan is a guiding document, not a rule book.
“The comprehensive plan is intended to be a guiding document,” he said. “It isn’t uncommon for such rezoning requests to come forward even when they aren’t in compliance with the plan.”
Mitch Fluhrer, one of the commission’s newest members, said while he works in construction and understands the need for the product that Martin Marietta provides, he said he wasn’t comfortable giving the project his full support without more discussion on the 21 comprehensive plan policies.
Travis Crane, a senior planner for the city, agrees with Gaylord on the need for this type of industry.
“Obviously, industrial operations are important for the city,” Crane said. “You have to have industry; you have to have rock quarries.”
Crane said the real question for the Planning Commission will be, “Is this an appropriate place to expand the quarry?”
Planning staff will provide a report to the commission regarding the policies and a vote on the application will take place at the next Planning Commission meeting June 12.
Areilla Monti and Charles C. Duncan Pardo contributed to reporting.