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Potential Sheltontown land sale raises questions

Some Sheltontown residents are dusting off their yellow protest signs and getting ready for another fight against development along the Sauratown Scenic Byway.

After last year’s bout against a rezoning application from Teramore Development LLC to construct a new Dollar General location brought out robust opposition, some residents thought the matter settled.

Now Gammons Auto at 3250 Westfield Road is reportedly under contract, and it has set off alarms anew.

Heather Moore of Moore’s General Store was one advocate for controlled growth along the byway and is a major supporter of a plan to place an “overlay” district along the byway that would help guide decisions on non-residential uses to protect “the rural character and natural environment of the area…and ensure compatibility with neighboring properties.”

The county’s development code is under review and until the county holds public hearings for input, the overlay is still just an idea. The process will be completed within the next six weeks officials said, but in the interim residents of the area have become alarmed by what they consider a late hour land grab before a potential regulation change.

“They are trying to slip it in and keep it in administrative mode at this point so there can be no hearing or public input,” Moore explained of the potential sale. Once the overlay district is in place approval for zoning changes may be harder to obtain, so Moore wondered if the sale of Gammons Auto is trying to beat the regulation change under the wire.

Last summer after the dust settled from the battle between Sheltontown residents against a rezoning request from Teramore Development LLC. to rezone a residential tract to make way for new Dollar General at the corner of Quaker Road and Westfield Road, Moore made a request.

She asked the county to keep her in the loop when any permits or zoning requests were made for a certain group of sites that residents had noted may be potential targets of Teramore Development LLC. Late last week she said she got a call from a county official alerting her that Gammons Auto was under contract and a site development meeting had been requested.

“The planning department informed me that Joe Strickland requested a site plan meeting,” she said Monday. Strickland is part of the group that has been building Dollar Generals in the area over the past several years including on Beulah Church Road, Cook School Road, Zephyr Road, and Mount View Drive.

In September Angela Leonard was one of the few Surry County residents who spoke to the county commissioners raising questions about the fairness of changing zoning rules along the byway seemingly at the request of a handful of businesses who were opposed to Dollar General.

Some may have painted her point of view as being pro-business, but to her it was more an issue of free will and liberty, “My family owns land in that area, and it is zoned commercial. My parents started a business there in 1985 and retired in 2015. They bought this land and worked two jobs and did anything and everything they had to do. They poured their soul, heart, sweat, everything into this land and business.”

She said her parents want to pass the land onto the next generation, but “My question is if we decide to do another business there, are we going to have to get permission of the citizens of the community? Is this not America, the land of the free where you’re supposed to be able to do what you want on your land?”

“I understand the rezoning and stuff like that,” she explained noting the Sheltontown example but wondered if it would stop there. “Now they’re wanting to hold up even permits.”

“If you’re already zoned, I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why a person who has worked, or as a family, and I have worked there ever since I could, I don’t understand why we would have to get permission to do so,” Leonard said.

Part of her argument is that the land belongs to her family so should not she and her family have the ultimate say in what become of Gammons Auto Sales? “My parents can no longer be in there, but in the future if we decided to do anything, is that not our right? Is it not our right to build or produce a company or business on our land?”

There has been no rezoning application from Gammons Auto, the family, or the potential buyer of the land but the overall debate comes down to personal liberty as it applies to land rights versus the subjectivity of what is in the greater good for the community.

For Moore and the proponents of the Scenic Byway Overlay, protecting the character of the land as close to what it is now is what they feel is best for residents, tourists, and the future of the county. Keeping discount retailers off the scenic byway was the main goal and it will enhance the experience for those travelling the byway who are not coming here for the box stores, she said.

Capitalism though thrives on a need for competition, and Leonard said that more competition is good for business as it was for her parents. She said during the Dollar General fight last year that she didn’t know if folks feared competition but that, “business is a gamble, you don’t know. We could have gone belly up, every business is like that. That’s just part of it, you know.”

It was said during that debate that Dollar General and Teramore Development LLC were waging an assault on the rural way of life to which Leonard countered, “I feel there is a not-so-silent assault on me and my family because we have land over there. We cannot put two tires on that pavement before a neighbor is over there wanting to know what we’re doing, why we’re here on our own land, and why we’re doing this or that.”

She went on to say that if the residents of the area could hold that much sway over development choices for businesses that it may be only a matter of time before adding a garage or deck onto one’s home may need permission as well.

Moore said Monday that she has been in contact with members of the county commissioners and that those in opposition to potential development will attend the next board meeting in force.

She said members of her group were given assurances Teramore Development LLC was taking their sites off Sheltontown. Strickland’s involvement in the land purchase has led her to believe that is no longer the case. “We had been told over and over that Teramore was going to leave Sheltontown alone. So, who was lying?”

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