An issue that has taken hours upon hours over the past several months concluded in a matter of moments Wednesday night, with a special use request for a mining operation on Five Bridge Road promptly withdrawn in favor of protecting the land in perpetuity.
Andrew Jackson, attorney for Emerald Sod LLC, read a letter addressed to Planning Board Chairman Scott Brown, in which he stated that a conservation easement was granted that would preserve nearly 600 acres of property on Five Bridge and High House roads in its current state forever.
“On Dec. 30, Emerald Sod LLC granted a perpetual conservation easement in favor of the Foothills Land Conservancy affecting the real property that is the subject of this special use permit application,” Jackson stated inside the City Auditorium Wednesday.
The Deed of Conservation Easement has been recorded in the Sampson County Registry.
The deed of conservation easement, a 49-page document, outlines the permitted and prohibited uses for the 558 acres. It also states the aim of such an easement.
“It is the exclusive purpose of this easement to ensure that the entire property will be retained forever in its undeveloped, natural, scenic farm land and/or open land condition and to prevent any use of the property that will impair or interfere with the conservation values of the property,” it reads in part.
Any activity on or use of the property inconsistent with the purpose of the conservation easement is prohibited.
Among those prohibited activities are: utilizing the property for a subdivision; commercial or industrial use; the placement or construction of any buildings; the cutting, destruction or removal of any trees; and dredging of sand, gravel and other materials as permitted by the special use application.
“For this reason the property owner must withdraw the pending request for a special use permit,” said Jackson. “Kindly accept this letter on behalf of Emerald Sod as our formal request to withdraw SU-10-15-4 (Little Coharie Mine request).”
A Tennessee nonprofit corporation, the Foothills Land Conservancy is dedicated to protecting, preserving and enhancing the lands and environments of the Southern Appalachian region and promoting the character of the land for the benefit of the general public, now and in the future,” according to the nonprofit’s website.
Foothills’ protects lands in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
One resident at Wednesday’s abbreviated meeting asked about the proposed intent of the property.
“That is beyond our scope,” said Gary Mac Herring, the presiding chairman in the absence of Brown.
“The only thing I am at liberty to say is at this time it is going to remain as is, as a sod farm,” Jackson replied. “The terms of the conservation easement state the permitted uses are agricultural, so that is what it shall remain. It is in perpetuity. It lasts forever.”
The Little Coharie Mine was proposed for the Five Bridge Road site, with the applicant last month providing a long list of self-imposed conditions to meet the planning board and opposing citizens halfway. The perceived effect on property values and harmony of the community were main points of contention in the lengthy discussions about the proposed sand and mining.
Close to 30 hours were spent in meetings over the past several months hearing mining issues.
The Big Easy mine on Fleet Naylor was approved in November, on the heels of the White Sands Mine in close proximity to that area in September. A proposed mining operation on High House Road was denied and, along with the Five Bridge Road property, is included in the conservation easement. All land is owned by Clark Wooten.
“Many thanks to the planning board members and to planning department staff for enduring many hours of testimony concerning the proposed Little Coharie Mine,” Jackson stated. “Your service to Sampson County is greatly appreciated.”
Clifton Hester, representing the contingent opposed to the request, shared that sentiment.
“I would like to thank the board for your patience,” Hester said. “It’s been a very trying experience. I do thank you. It was an ordeal for you all as it was for us.”
He also expressed his thanks to Jackson and Wooten.
“It is a very kind, neighborly thing Mr. Wooten chose to do. It’s a kind and thoughtful thing that has been done here. My thanks to Mr. Wooten for that consideration,” Hester remarked.
Planning staff and board members also shared their gratitude to both sides represented during the special use request.
“I appreciate the professionalism that has been exhibited in the room from both sides, as well as from the community,” Planning director Mary Rose said. “Before 2004, Sampson County did not have zoning, so anybody could develop anything in the county pretty much. This shows that there is a process in place and it does give each side an opportunity to be heard. So thank you all for your participation in the process.”
Herring said the board attempts to be fair and objective at all time as part of that process. He thanked fellow board members, planning staff and attorney Joel Starling.
“It is a process. This is government at its finest. It was done professionally, and I think we can be proud of it,” said Herring, who concurred with Hester about Wooten’s gesture. “I personally think that is a very neighborly thing to do. My basic understanding is that is a pretty good scenario for people in that area. Maybe this can mend some of those fences.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.