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.