ANGIER — Residents spoke up and the city of Angier officials listened.
Tuesday night’s Board of Adjustment meeting extended into Wednesday morning and ended with three words that encapsulated an effort to preserve something dear: “We hear you.”
Faced with a packed house inside and a bigger crowd outside, the seven-member board denied Highland Paving a special use permit, stopping a heavily criticized asphalt plant from setting up shop and sending the dozens of people, who came to express their feelings, home happy.
“I, along with all the other people here, heard you,” William Coats, an Angier commissioner and BOA member, said. “Thank you for coming out and speaking and doing it civilly without violence. We have enough of that going on in the country. I thank you and want to acknowledge the fact that we have heard you.”
Tuesday’s public hearing on the proposed plant lasted nearly 8 hours. The sometimes heated debate featured expert testimony directed at the overall safety of asphalt plants and impassioned pleas from ordinary residents defending Angier’s hometown appeal and way of life. Men, women and children of all ages lined up in front of the Angier library before the meeting started, waving signs of opposition to the plant as cars passed by honking horns.
“We are ecstatic,” said Maria Marquez, an Angier resident who arrived well before the meeting started and didn’t leave until nearly 2:30 Wednesday morning. “We can’t believe they listened to the community. That’s exactly what we were asking them to do. We didn’t want anything more but to hear what a community had to say. We’re really excited and thrilled and really happy they listened to us.”
Dunn attorney Tilghman Pope represented Brian Raynor, the permit’s applicant, and tried to keep the focus on expert testimony. He started the quasi-judicial hearing highlighting the planning that went into the plant’s layout and its state-of-the-art equipment designed to reduce emissions and pungent odors associated with asphalt.
Catherine Choate, director of environmental compliance for Astec Inc., told the board similar facilities around the world are placed near or in communities like Angier without ever causing a problem to the local population. Astec produces equipment used to make different blends of asphalt.
“100% of our process is completely contained,” said Choate. “We’re pulling air into the unit so it’s not blowing anything out. Close to 96% of roadways in the U.S. are paved with asphalted concrete. It is not harmful to the environment. The toxic compounds that are present in our exhaust gases are below all regulatory exposure limits.”
Stephon Bowens, a Raleigh-based attorney representing several residents from the community, spent his time introducing regular people with real stories about how the asphalt plant would impact them personally. Bowens, despite several objections from his counterpart, managed to introduce old newspaper stories and health concerns into the conversation.
Pope countered certain claims from residents such as Carlota Reyes, who worried about her chronically ill step-father living next door to the plant, or Lonnie Morris, a local chemical engineer explaining his fears of increased emissions from the facility. But the people kept coming forward. One after another, residents stepped up to the podium and offered similar statements, describing their love for Angier and the reasons that brought them all there.
“There should be no doubt as to what the decision should be,” Reyes said. “I don’t believe (the plant is in harmony with the community) especially if the adjacent properties are residential or agricultural. I feel like it doesn’t fit the character.”
When all was said and done, the board had to decide whether the applicant presented competent evidence to meet all five criteria required by the city to issue a special use permit. Any decision had to be based solely on evidence presented during the hearing and the board could deny the permit if the applicant, Raynor, failed to meet any of the criteria.
Board members found the applicant was unable to prove the requested use would not impair the integrity or character of the surrounding or adjoining district or create health concerns.
“I personally don’t think B has been met,” said Commissioner and BOA member Loru Boger Hawley. “It says requested use would not be detrimental to the health and morale welfare. There is no evidence here tonight that says it will not be detrimental to certain people who live in these communities. There has been nothing presented to us to support that.”
All seven members of the board voted unanimously to deny the permit.
“Both the applicant and concerned citizens presented good arguments,” Angier Mayor Robert Smith said. “I thought people responded in a patient and productive way."
Angier City Manager Gerry Vincent said either side could appeal the board’s decision to the N.C. Court of Appeals within 30 days. Should Raynor appeal the verdict, Vincent said board members could be subpoenaed to testify on how they reached their decision.
“(Raynor) has the right to submit that request,” Vincent said. “It would follow the same type of testimony: expert witness type situation. At that point, it would be a total judicial process with a judge and a jury. Our staff would probably have to testify and they may also get the seven board members to testify as far as making the decision to not grant the special use permit ... based on what was presented last night, and this morning.”
Following the verdict, Marquez said she and others plan to get more active in their community by attending meetings and staying engaged in the political theater.
The community’s confidence is higher than ever after feeling like their voices finally were heard.
Eliot Duke can be reached at email@example.com or at 910-230-2038.