By ANA RISANO
The operator of a dormant Seven Lakes rail freight yard that used to handle construction materials wants to re-open the business, but county officials are concerned if times have changed too much to approve it.
The Moore County Board of Commissioners moved to continue a public hearing on a text amendment for freight terminals following concerns about uses and a proposed site’s impact on neighboring residences.
Planning Director Debra Ensminger presented an ordinance amendment that would allow freight terminals in non-industrial districts with a special-use permit and a list of regulations.
A freight terminal is “a facility designated for the loading, unloading, and trans-shipment of goods from and to trains or other modes of transportation,” Ensminger said. Some regulations include landscape screening and 100-foot buffers from residential areas.
The amendment comes from a request to operate a previously used railroad spur that abuts the Seven Lakes West community — across from the West End Elementary School and next to the Longleaf Truss Co. off N.C. 211.
But it’s currently zoned for “highway commercial development,” which only allows for the construction of retail and service businesses, like grocery stores and restaurants.
The county Planning Board discussed this issue across two meetings before recommending approval, taking time to define the standards to limit the terminal’s impact on neighboring properties.
Concerns were raised about increased noise in the area, with trains coming in at any hour of the day, the general operations of unloading train cars and reloading trucks for shipment, and what the products would be.
Part-owner Angus McDonald said the site previously ran as a freight terminal for over 25 years before operations stopped in 2008 because of the economy. He plans to use the spur for moving wood construction materials.
But future operators could choose to move other products like chemicals, which was a point raised by County Commissioner Frank Quis. He referenced Aberdeen earlier in the discussion because fertilizers are offloaded near neighborhoods there.
He said Aberdeen Mayor Robbie Farrell called it a “troublesome situation” because of the materials and equipment used to move the products.
McDonald agreed that something like that could happen after him, but he plans to return to prior operations.
“The basic premise here is to go back like it was before 2008, 2012, when we ceased operation of it. It unloads bundles of lumber, bundles of plywood,” McDonald. “There is no plan to put in any sort of blowing (equipment) or conveyor or the like.”
Quis also mentioned that people in Seven Lakes might be unaware of the proposed plan and asked if anyone from the community was at the meeting to speak.
Tom LoSapio, who lives in Seven Lakes West, said, “The HOA knows nothing about this,” and asked if the community could have an opportunity to participate in the discussion.
“I would think that a community of 1,700 lots and 1,5000 homes might want to know that that’s right outside our gates, basically,” he said. “So to proceed without their involvement would be pretty unfair.”
County IT Director Kay Ingram also shared a concern about increased noise, remembering trains coming to load and unload in the middle of the night. But McDonald said the business never operated at night.
“We were a good neighbor and always have been,” McDonald said. “The one point that I’ve heard that I can’t help is the railroad.”
The railroad has regulations and laws regarding its operations — like blowing the train horn to signal road crossings — so there is little he can control outside of what products he contracts to offload and at what times.
McDonald further explained that it’s an “existing business” that “can’t just be run off” because of something that happened in the planning department with the property’s zoning.
But Ensminger said that because the spur’s use as a freight terminal stopped 15 years ago, the business has to “meet the standards of today.”
Quis said he’d like to continue the hearing to look further into railroad laws and give the Seven Lakes community time to learn about the request. McDonald said he’d be happy to follow further restrictions on what materials could be offloaded, wanting to be “fair to the community” while also able to operate his business.
The hearing was continued to the Board of Commissioners’ next meeting on June 6, starting at 10:30 a.m. in the historic courthouse, 1 Courthouse Square, Carthage.
In other business Tuesday night, the county commissioners:
* heard the 2023-24 fiscal year budget presentation. A public hearing is scheduled for June 20, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the historical courthouse, 1 Courthouse Square in Carthage; and
* approved initiating steps for a land swap with the village of Pinehurst. The county owns two parcels off Power Plant Road and Pinehurst owns two on Juniper Lake Road. The county would pay for the difference in appraised land values and the additional 3.2 acres owned by Pinehurst, totaling $248,000.
Contact Ana Risano at (910) 585-6396 or firstname.lastname@example.org.