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Jun 132015
 

New developments have occurred in the Providence VFD lawsuit, filed earlier this month against the Town of Weddington over the town’s wrongful termination of its 10 year Fire Service Contract. According to the EJ story, the PVFD has petitioned the court to include testimony from many of the principal actors involved with the decision on the town council as well as former the mayors and council members. Additionally, members of the Wesley Chapel VFD board of directors has been requested to be deposed.

The money quote from the story below:

“The Petitioner anticipates bringing a cause of action for injunctive relief and for tortious interference by Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department, its officers, employees and agents (WCVFD) with Petitioner’s contract more specifically described as the Fire Service Agreement between the PVFD and the Town of Weddington”

Considering the language used above, the fireworks may just be starting.

Please note the excellent coverage of the story by the Enquirer Journal, please encourage continued coverage.

PVFD lawsuit expanded to include Wesley Chapel VFD, mayor

The Enquirer Journal:  Jun. 13, 2015 @ 01:00 PM
WEDDINGTON — There were two developments in Weddington’s controversial move to terminate its fire service agreement with Providence Volunteer Fire Department and contract with Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department.The breach of contract suit filed last week was expanded to include statements by several people both in and outside Weddington government. And the N.C. Department of Insurance responded to WCVFD’s action plan for taking over service of Weddington.The April town council vote began a process that will likely cause Providence VFD to close on or before July 29, the date the new FSA with Wesley Chapel VFD takes effect. Not only does the council’s action strip Providence of its service area and revenue stream, it also sells the town-owned fire station on Hemby Road Providence inhabits to Wesley Chapel VFD.
The Providence VFD Board of Directors filed a breach of contract suit with the Union County Clerk of Court against Weddington. The complaint cited the 2013 FSA between the town and Providence. Mayor Bill Deter stated publicly that the town’s action was justified because Providence VFD was insolvent. He cited a budgetary shortfall for the current fiscal year and a fund balance lower than the council understood was necessary to operate.

But the FSA does not include the financial criteria cited by the mayor and a majority of town council members. Providence’s attorney, Bob Henderson, argued that the town violated the FSA and should pay the $750,000 for cancellation without cause.

Thursday, the lawsuit was updated to include a petition to depose 19 people. The plaintiff requests permission to take sworn statements from all current members of the Weddington council – Deter, Barbara Harrison, Don Titherington, Pamela Hadley and Michael J. Smith. It requests a statement from Leslie Gaylord, Weddington’s finance officer. Former mayors Walker Davidson and Nancy Anderson are listed, as are former Weddington Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Barry, retired Union County Fire Marshall Neal Speer and former town administrator Amy McCollum.

But the request goes further. It calls for depositions of WCVFD Chief Steven McLendon, WCVFD Board President Charles Rohland, WCVFD Boardmember Andrew Stallings, former board member Harold “Butch” Plyler, Union County Emergency Services Director Curtis Teague, Union County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Helms, Providence VFD firefighter Kenneth Lankford and Tim McGrath who authored the 2014 study that stated Weddington would need to raise taxes to fund its FSA with Providence.

“The Petitioner anticipates bringing a cause of action for injunctive relief and for tortious interference by Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department, its officers, employees and agents (WCVFD) with Petitioner’s contract more specifically described as the Fire Service Agreement between the PVFD and the Town of Weddington dated October 13, 2013 for a ten (10) year term and with an option for PVFD to extend for an additional five (5) years,” the document states. “Despite the full compliance of PVFD with its obligations under the FSA, the FSA was terminated by Weddington Town Council by its vote at a special meeting held on or about April 28, 2015.”

At that same special meeting, the council voted to award an FSA to WCVFD and now seeks to evict PVFD from the Hemby Road Station for use as a WCVFD substation.

“PVFD desires to establish testimony as to the communications, representations and inducements that may have been made to the Weddington Town Council resulting in the termination of the FSA and the consummation of a new FSA between the Town of Weddington and WCVFD,” it states.

The request summarizes the plaintiff’s reasons for calling each individual. It alleges that officials from Weddington, Union County and WCVFD were involved in a “scheme” to switch from Providence to WCVFD, to the direct benefit of WCVFD.

State reviews action plan, asks for changes

Thursday, NCDOI Inspections Supervisor Davie Summey replied to Teague about WCVFD’s written plan outlining how it would take over service of Weddington’s municipal fire district.

Summey outlines five issues with the plan that must be corrected before the NCDOI can approve the plan. The action plan refers to a combined insurance district. But Weddington is a separate municipal district and to merge it into the volunteer fire district of Wesley Chapel VFD would require the town to give authority over the area back to Union County.

The plan also omitted the land in PVFD’s service area that would be excluded from WCVFD’s coverage. Summey wrote that the plan must also consider how the county will provide fire service there as well.

Weddington’s contract with Stallings VFD is also absent from the plan. Summey asked if WCVFD will cover parts of Weddington that is now covered by Stallings VFD or if the county has a different method of fire service there.

Summey also cited the need for consistent map accuracy throughout the plan and an analysis of needed fire flows for any of the district changes.

“If all the information in the revised plan is accurately in place and verified by onsite inspections that will be done, it could be possible for the areas in question to get the rating carried by Wesley Chapel of 6/9 E until a new rating can be conducted on the entire area,” Summey wrote. “With this said the current rating of 4/9E for Providence Insurance District, 4 for Weddington Insurance District would be downgraded to a 6/9E for the current Providence Insurance District and a 6 for the Weddington Insurance District.

Read more: PVFD lawsuit expanded to include Wesley Chapel VFD, mayor | The Enquirer Journal

 Posted by at 11:45 pm
Mar 312015
 

Last night (March 30, 2015), Wesley Chapel Mayor Brad Horvath held an town hall meeting before crowd 60+ citizens and the media to discuss from his perspective, the issues surrounding the de-annexation petitions and its current status.

Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Brad Horvath

Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Brad Horvath

It wasn’t until early January 2015, that the “de-annexation” petitions from Wesley Chapel property owners came to public light. Mayor Horvath related in his comments last night, that he became aware of the petitions when Sen. Tucker called him in May of 2014. Horvath stated that none of the petitioners have contacted any member of the town council, (including a councilperson Becky Plyler, who recently filed her own petition to de-annex), prior or since Sen. Tucker’s initial call, to complain of an issue that drove them to seek to de-annex. According to Mr. Horvath, Sen. Tucker at the time, did not request that the town do anything, but he (Sen. Tucker) had yet to decide how he would handle the petitions. It wasn’t until January that list of petitioners was actually presented to the town.

In subsequent meetings before the Town Council, petitioners did come forward and a few offered their reasoning: primarily the limited types development permitted under Wesley Chapel zoning.

In early March, Sen, Tucker filed a bill (S214 -Link) to de-annex approximately 71 parcels/900 acres from the heart of Wesley Chapel.

Map prepared by Sondra Bradford

Petitioner Properties marked in red (Map prepared by Sondra Bradford)

As I mentioned above, the crux of the issue is zoning, namely Wesley Chapel’s R40, one house per acre zoning, which in the case of some of the de-annexation petitioners prevents them from maximizing the value of their land. In reality, the ringleaders of the de-annexation petition would prefer to be subject to County zoning rules which are much more lucrative for developers, especially in light of the recent decision by County Commissioners that permitted high density subdivisions near the airport. (Readers should put these high density subdivisions in context with school overcrowding and the draconian redistricting experience last year.)

Government should not be in the business of augmenting the value of property to the benefit of “connected” landowners and to the detriment of the remaining citizens and the future of the town.

A little history..

Many of the small towns in Union County were created from the same fear of being annexed by a bigger town. The Town of Weddington and the Village of Marvin were incorporated to prevent Charlotte encroachment, while Wesley Chapel was concerned about Indian Trail’s involuntary annexation intentions.

Excerpt concerning the formation of Wesley Chapel from Bill Lee's History of Wesley Chapel.

An excerpt relating to the formation of Wesley Chapel from Bill Lee’s Book, the History of Wesley Chapel.

Motivating the town

In the meantime, Mayor Horvath, most of the council-members and a growing number of Wesley Chapel citizens are working to forestall the de-annexation bill by any means they can.

Clearly, the next stage are largely dependent on the actions of Senator Tucker and by extension, Representative Craig Horn. Both State officials have stated that their only motivation is find a way to solve the problem locally, but they feel the town needs to be more accommodating and communicative with the petitioners.

The other side of the coin

In my discussions with Sen. Tucker today, he justifies his action with the argument that he is just representing his constituents, who feel the town zoning is too narrow and restrictive. Paraphrasing Sen. Tucker, straight R40 zoning doesn’t offer landowners and perspective buyers sufficient latitude. In response to my challenge concerning the coercive nature of the suggested resolution via new zoning ordinances, Sen. Tucker responded by saying that he is not asking the town to do anything that they weren’t either already working on or could accommodate without violating their base R40 zoning. Both his points are true.

Senator Tucker stated that because of the rules of the Senate that he would be moving the bill out the Rules committee before the cross-over deadline at the end of the April.

How do you like them apples?

So if I understand correctly, the town is being “told” that if they create a couple new zoning ordinances (Age-restricted, “over 55” housing and clustered subdivisions), that would satisfy the demands of both our elected state officials and the disgruntled petitioners.

STOP and think about that a minute.

It so happens that the planning board of Wesley Chapel has been working on an “Over 55 – restricted housing subdivision ordinance for some time and recently sent their recommendations to the Council for a public hearing and vote.

Typically, this is how new ordinances are developed. It’s not complicated, it doesn’t take heavy-handed manipulation from Raleigh. Ordinances are developed based on needs as realized by the planning board, elected council members or via text amendments requested by citizens.

The de-annexation effort would have fallen flat on its face were it not for the support Senator Tucker and the way the General Assembly members typically support the “Local” bills of other members. Local bills don’t require the Governors signature to be come law, so there are no “veto” concerns, either.

Whats the worse that can happen?

If all the parcels on the Senator Tuckers bill were de-annexed, how would that really effect Wesley Chapel?

Initially, Wesley Chapel will suffer a revenue loss, both from a reduction in ad valorem property taxes, utility franchise fees it collects and sales tax.

In the long term, the damage will be to the continuity of the town’s land use planning and master plan, falling prey to the political winds that influence County Commissioner zoning decisions. All those 900 plus acres would be figurative donut holes in Wesley Chapel’s land use map. Wesley Chapels tax paying residents would have very little influence in what the county could or would permit on those parcels.

A great example of what could happen has already happened in Wesley Chapel!

Have you seen that monstrosity of electric substation across from the Stonegate subdivision? Well the power company first applied to the town for a permit to build a larger substation on the other corner opposite the garage property. After days of testimony by the utility and opposition, the Wesley Chapel Council turned down the permit due to the failure of the substation plans to meet the findings of fact under a “quasi-judical” permitting procedure.

Much the surprise of the Town Council and Stonegate homeowners, the power company purchased the lot on the other side of the road and announced plans to build the substation.

You see the lot on the other side was a “donut-hole”, under Union County zoning, and a use by right for a power substation, meaning the power company only had to file a site plan with the county and obtain a zoning permit — a simple matter.

Regardless of your viewpoint on the value or need of a substation, the will of the local community was circumvented.

There are many instances of use by right in Union County zoning that bypass the local community and don’t require legislative decisions to permit.

What should the town do?

Simply put, considering the downside — whatever Sen. Tucker and Representative Horn say to do.

 Posted by at 8:15 pm
Jun 202009
 

O
nce again, the staccato bursts of machine gun fire will be rattling the windows and the nerves of the adjoining homeowners to Dr. Michael Land’s Wesley Chapel “Sports” shooting range.

In a decision which probably shocked as many in Dr. Land’s camp as as it does his opponents, Judge W. Erwin Spainhour has evidently decided in favor of machine guns next neighborhoods.

Click to view: Temporary Order – Michael R. Land vs Village of Wesley Chapel

The judge’s temporary order does not include any specificity as to the reasons for his ruling, we will have to wait to be enlightened. Conversely, the Village of Wesley Chapel has yet to issue a statement regarding their future course, should they (and I think they should) choose to appeal the ruling.

It always amazes me how the law in some regards can be as precise as a laser beam, but in other cases be as blunt as the flat side of the shovel. Maybe we should just blame the lawyers.

If Dr. Land had only used his shooting range for the little 22 cal. target rifle he sports for the news photographers and TV cameras at every opportunity, I don’t think people would have objected as strenuously as they do when he whips out his Thompson submachine gun and blasts away. Furthermore you have to wonder about BATF licensing procedures, as Dr. Land’s testimony during the Board of Adjustment hearing gave cause to question his application for a Class III ‘machine gun’ license.

Be that as it may, as long as hills of Wesley Chapel are alive with the sound of shot and cannonade, then Dr. Land’s shooting range will remain the target of angst and anger.

 Posted by at 10:54 am
Feb 252008
 
Robert Stack as Elliott Ness

Actor Robert Stack as G-Man Elliot Ness with his Tommy Gun

Typically when I hear the words ‘Tommy Gun’ I think of 1920’s era Chicago mobsters and G-Man Elliott Ness or James Cagney (You dirty rats), Edward G Robinson and of course Bogart. Tommy Gun is one of many nicknames ((“Chopper”, “Chicago Typewriter” and “Chicago Piano”)) for the Thompson Submachine Gun, produced in differing variants starting in 1921 and used by the military till the Vietnam war era. In many circles a coveted weapon to own and I’d imagine awesome to shoot.

In 1934, the Congress passed the National Firearms Act which sought to control the proliferation of automatic, short barreled and explosive weapons. To purchase a machine gun like the Thompson, prospective owners must submit to an extensive background check, reasonable need to own the weapon, ID photos and fingerprints. Subsequent laws in 1968 and 1986 have limited access to automatic weapons though foreign imports and manufacturing for sale to the civilian population. Vintage weapons like the Tommy Gun command great value to collectors.

Grave cause for concern

Yes, Wesley Chapel residents, the fusillade of automatic weapons fire you hear is coming from the unregulated ‘Sport Shooting’ range in Dr. Michael Land’s backyard, is from a Tommy Gun. The sound is incredible as magazine after magazine is expended in very short order. Mowing down targets at rate of more than 400 bullets per minute; that’s a lot of lead.

To see a Thompson Submachine gun like Dr. Land’s in action, watch following video:

The reader should note the enclosed shooting range is where this weapon is fired.

Neighbors complain, Village Government caught in the middle

I have been watching this issue closely, as it is a ‘classic’ example of suburban encroachment, where two differing land uses clash. Just a few years ago, when Wesley Chapel was just farm bordering farm, target shooting in your backyard caused nary a ripple of worry. But with the advent of subdivision growth, the inevitable has come. I suppose the staccato bark of machine gun fire has hastened the conflict of land uses and public safety. Suburbanites with their children playing in the backyard, will never be at ease. A dense subdivision and a shooting range cannot safely co-exist without careful planning and negotiation by both sides and even then it is a unsatisfying compromise.

Until recently, when Dr. Land unexpectedly and arbitrarily withdrew, Wesley Chapel’s Council, the area homeowners and Dr. Land seemed to be working toward an ‘accommodation’. Dr. Land had re-enforced his shooting range berm, reportedly building it higher and deeper. They jointly agreed upon NRA ((National Rifle Association)) inspection of his range, inspection fees to be paid by the town and results shared with all. Level heads were prevailing. All the participants wanted to keep the issue to as low a profile as possible and until this apparent impasse, they’d accomplished it.

The multiple stories in the newspapers, recent editorials and letters have raised the visibility, coarsened the language and put all sides on a collision course.

Waxhaw Exchange Story: Village eyes gun ordinances
Waxhaw Exchange Editorial: Wesley Chapel’s next showdown

In the end, the absurdity would have killed an agreement

“Reasonable people working together should be able to come to a solution”, a basic tenet of our democracy, right? What happens when even a compromise satisfies no one? In my view, Dr. Land’s machine gun use makes the likelihood of a resolution near to impossible. Rifle and pistol fire, while loud and disconcerting, does not elicit a reaction a machine gun brings.

Even if he agreed to only discharge his automatic weapon once or twice a week and at a given hour, neighbors would eventually demand a complete cessation of the range in it’s entirely — who can blame them. Fear, anger and frustration, not to mention the potential loss of property value will force a political solution, if not now then soon.

NC State Statute

Dr. Land has addressed the Wesley Chapel Council a number of times, in an effort to work out the controversy and to belay peoples fears. He has voluntarily spent thousands of dollars to upgrade his range and remove as much cause for concern as possible. Living in Weddington, he only comes to Wesley Chapel to shoot and ride ATVs on his multi-acre homestead. In his testimony before the Village Council, he stated that his range is protected by North Carolina statute, Sport Shooting Range Protection Act of 1997 which exempts a ‘Sports’ shooting range from noise ordinances.

Definition (2) of the act defines a Sport shooting range as “An area designed and operated for the use of rifles, shotguns, pistols, silhouettes, skeet, trap, black powder, or any other similar sport shooting” You’ll note that machine gun is not listed. ((Neither is anti-tank gun, or Gatling gun, mini-gun or naval gun listed as sports weapons.)) Logically, one can assume that had the General Assembly intended to include machine guns as a ‘Sporting Range’ weapon, it would have been listed at the forefront.

Had Dr. Land continued to pursue the NRA range review as the contract was originally written, I would have held out hope for an short-term amicable solution, but as it looks now, this issue may boil over to a battle of personal ‘rights’ — the right to shoot a machine gun in your backyard versus the right to be safe and enjoy quiet in your backyard.

postscript

The Enquirer Journal reported yesterday (Feb. 27), that Dr. Land had changed his mind regarding the NRA inspection of his home-based shooting range. Quoted in the EJ, Dr. Land said, “Once the report is known and given, (Wesley Chapel) will have complete disclosure of that report, without editing, straight from the NRA.”

The NRA report will address the design and safety of Dr. Land’s range according to NRA standards. While this action will not answer all concerns, it does at least keep the process moving.

Union County Weekly, February 29, 2008:

Stonegate property values in jeopardy?

From the story, quoting Allen Tate realtor Jim Sullivan,

The nonstop rat-a-tat was so loud and frightening, Sullivan said, the mother was “screaming for the children to run inside that house.” The mother hustled her frightened children into the car and sped off, Sullivan said never looking back…

… “it’s a disaster, the gunfire was so loud, I was stunned,” Sullivan said, clearly frustrated. He noted Sunday’s incident is by far not the first in the upscale neighborhood where homes sell for more than $400,000.

Accidents Happen

Gun range safety is a issue that should concern everyone. The following video link deals with a range in Pennsylvania and bullets hitting a home 3/4 of a mile away. Unlike Dr. Land’s backyard shooting range, this incident occured at a state licensed gun range.

Bullet Holes in Home in Buckingham Township