Sunday, January 12, 2014

CHS Hospital Rezoning on Davidson Board Agenda - Recuse then Refuse

Tuesday night, Davidson's new Board has its first real monthly meeting.  The December meeting saw the new Board sworn into office. 

Now it's time to get down to business, and one of the first items Commissioners will tackle involves the new CHS behavioral health hospital on highway 73.  Like it or not, this facility is controversial for some of the residents who live out that way, and Davidson's Board needs to handle this rezoning decision carefully.  See here and here for some past coverage involving the site.  This site and the process around how it came into existence also was big piece of the discussion at the Summers Walk candidate forum during the past election cycle. 

Davidson's Board likely will face two decisions on Tuesday involving this rezoning request.  Each decisions provides an opportunity to support transparency in government.

The first decision involves the likely request from Commissioner Bran Jenest to recuse himself from voting on the actual rezoning.  His firm ColeJenest&Stone is doing work on the project.  Based on email communication with Commissioner Jenest, he indicated that he "absolutely" intends to recuse himself.  However, that does not mean he will be allowed to recuse himself.  The rest of the Board will likely have to agree.

Based on research done by the staff at the UNC School of Government, there are multiple State statutes involving when elected officials can recuse themselves.  In most cases the standard is that a “direct, substantial, and readily identifiable” financial impact must be present for the elected official to be recused from voting on something.  In the past Davison's other Board members have allowed Commissioner Jenest to vote in similar situations.  See the vote on MSC's sign as an example.  This is based on the idea that there is not "direct" benefit to Commissioner Jenest from this type of specific vote.  However, it also seems reasonable that one could argue that as a name partner in the firm doing the work there certainly is benefit.  Additionally, without knowing the exact details of  the contract between Commissioner Jenest's firm and CHS, there is really no way of knowing if there is benefit.  Understanding that Commissioner Jenest knows the rules as well or better than the other Commissioners since he's been through this on other issues, if he offers to recuse himself from voting on the rezoning, then the other Commissioners should take him at his word that his situation meets the standards and allow him to recuse himself.

That brings us to the second opportunity for the Board to support openness and transparency in government.  Regardless of whether or not Commissioner Jenest votes in the actual rezoning, the Board should deny this rezoning request.  There are multiple reasons why this request should not be approved.

First, it's not much of a secret that CHS was attracted to this parcel in large part because they were told they had "by right" privileges to build what they wanted without rezoning.  They apparently accepted that.  CHS did not want to experience any of the pushback they received when the facility was originally planned for Huntersville.  Now that the facility is built, CHS coming back to ask for a rezoning of the entire property to Conditional zoning from its current Flex zoning seems like a bit of a bait and switch.  They knew the zoning going into the project.  They knew the town's sign ordinance.  They should live within the current requirements.

Second, Davidson makes a big point that all parts of town should be treated the same when it comes to planning and design.  They should stick to that principle here.  Also, the precedent of the MSC sign decision should not really apply to this zoning request.  The MSC site is in the main commercial area of Davidson and it was argued at the time that MSC's sign request really impacted I77, not Davidson proper.  On the other hand, CHS is on a main road driven by many Davidsonian's every day and the nearby development is almost entirely residential.  Not allowing a lighted sign on this road best fits with the surrounding development.  It also prevents changing the entire zoning designation for a simple sign change.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, denying this petition would go a good way towards repairing what is a perceived lack of response to concerns from some folks on the east side of town regarding this site and project.

How the Davidson Town Board handles these issues Tuesday will in some ways set the tone for the Board.  It will be interesting to see how it goes.

UPDATE: Based subsequent discussions, this zoning change will actually only impact the sign not the rest of the requirements under the existing zoning.


  1. This CHS boondoggle seems to have proven to be highly lucrative for commissioner Jenest. Are there others also in town hall in a similar situation wrt the CHS project? Perhaps that is why this was rammed through even though it brings no revenue to the town, perhaps some low paying jobs .But commissioners can get financial benefits. Is this the MO of Davidson Town Hall? Talk of ethics or COI? This is worse. The security aspect of this has yet to play out for the neighborhood and the kids playing fields opposite. Why was the project not incorporated in the town itself ?Remember the MCI fiasco! It is still costing the town $300k per year while there are no funds for the fire dept! or a police station next to the CHS psychiatric hospital. Gone are the days of a forward thinking town hall, now it is what can "I get" from it!

    The rezoning is a subtle ploy to grant legal justification for this impending disaster to the area. It is not just a sign issue but a larger one to justify the earlier decisions of the town to ram this CHS project through. It appears that the town hall will go to all lengths to serve themselves. This CHS project is a disaster which Huntersville declined to include in it town limits! But the Davidson Town Hall was there to snatch it perhaps for obvious ulterior reasons.

  2. I don't usually accept this type of anonymous comment because it's pretty aggressive, but in this case I made an exception because the poster is expressing concern about an issue before the Davidson Town Board. While I don't agree with all of posters points or tone, this blog attempts to provide a forum for people to express their concerns with how our town runs (even if it is anonymously). In the interest of fairness, the Board has been notified that this comment is here, and anyone is free to respond to its content.

    As a point of clarification, I'll also point out that when I initially started looking into the State's conflict of interest laws, it was after receiving an anonymous comment that I did NOT publish. Was it the same person who posted this one? I don't know. But, that's just to point out that there is a concern in the community around this issue that did not originate with this blog.