SMITHFIELD — Johnston County commissioners have denied a family’s request to turn part of their rural property into community soccer fields.
At their evening meeting on Monday, commissioners unanimously rejected the rezoning request, settling a dispute that had been simmering since last fall.
Jose Gonzalez and Maria Talamantes, who live on Eatmon Road south of Zebulon, wanted to make room for six soccer fields on their 35-acre property. They said they wanted to give kids and adults in their community a place to play the game.
“I have three children,” said Talamantes, who spoke mostly through a translator. “When I moved to the area, I saw there was no place for them to play. A lot of kids who go to school have that problem.”
Talamantes envisioned a multi-field complex where people could practice during the week and even compete in leagues and tournaments on weekends.
The problem with Talamantes’ plan, according to neighbors, was the location. Eatmon Road is a quiet, dead-end road in a farming community. Neighbors said they were afraid the fields would bring noise, traffic and litter. On Monday, a group of neighbors who had opposed the plan from the beginning presented commissioners with a petition signed by 17 residents. A few of them spoke at the meeting.
“Personally, I like to sit on my front porch in the evening and read,” said Eatmon Road resident Phillip White. “But that solitude would be ruined by a constant parade of traffic in and out.”
After hearing similar concerns in January, the Johnston County Planning Board recommended that commissioners deny the rezoning request.
Talamantes offered a series of compromises on Monday. She offered to reduce the number of fields, build a private entrance along a gravel road, put up fences and vegetative buffers, and periodically clean the road of any litter that piled up.
“I would never do something that would devalue the property of my home or the property of my neighbors,” she said.
But her neighbors saw problems with each compromise. Even one field would amplify traffic, they said, noting that each team has at least 11 players, along with officials, coaches and guests. And they said buffers wouldn’t provide enough protection against the noise.
“I think it’s too much for our community … with just a single, little two-lane road out there,” said Donnie Temple.
The concern that got commissioners’ attention was isolated location. Eatmon is a narrow road in a remote neighborhood. Commissioners feared it would take too long for sheriff’s deputies and EMS workers to get there in case of an emergency.
“If something was to happen, it might be too far and too late for them to get the help they need,” said Commissioner Allen Mims, who recalled seeing his son suffer a concussion while playing soccer.
Still, commissioners were on the fence about the request.
“It’s a balancing act that we have to make, as far as property rights (are) concerned,” said Commissioner Devan Barbour.
Ted Godwin, the board’s newest member, said he was inclined to grant Talamantes her request. The sticking point for him, though, was the lack of easy access by emergency vehicles.
Godwin said Talamantes was welcome to use her property for unorganized play among friends. “I’m always going to lean toward a man doing with his property what he wants,” he said. “(But) to create a commercial venture out there ... I realize that’s probably not the place to do it.”
Talamantes offered no comment after the meeting but said she wouldn’t pursue the mater any further.