Here are two troubling things about Johnston county commissioners’ rejection of soccer fields on Eatmon Road south of Zebulon:
First, county commissioners in Johnston continue to make land-use decisions based on fears, not facts. That’s a flaunting of state law governing public hearings on land-use request. That laws requires quasi-judicial hearings with evidence from experts. Which is to stay commissioners cannot accept as gospel neighbor assertions that a land use will bring intolerable traffic, noise and litter. Commissioners must demand and neighbors must present evidence from similar cases.
Leaders in Clayton know this well. Years ago, the town council there said no to an apartment complex after neighbors argued that it would lower property values, create traffic congestion and bring crime to the area. But the neighbors presented no evidence, and the apartment developed sued Clayton, arguing that it’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. A judge agreed.
One day, a landowner turned down by Johnston commissioners is going to sue, and he’s going to win too, perhaps to the real detriment of his neighbors. Landowners on both sides of debates deserve better.
Second, the property owners on Eatmon Road aren’t the first in recent years to ask county commissioners for permission to build soccer fields, which suggests that demand for fields is outstripping supply.
In Johnston, county government is not in the parks and recreation business, and it doesn’t want to be. But if commissioners are going to say no to private soccer fields, then they have an obligation to support the construction of public soccer fields.
One option is to help Johnston towns and community groups build fields. Another is to help schools do so. That’s easier said that done of course. Amid a recession that won’t go away, local government revenues are down, leaving the county and its towns with no extra dollars for playing fields.
In that sense, it’s unfortunate that the county is saying no to private landowners, who are willing to risk their own dollars to invest in soccer fields they hope will return them some money.
In this latest case, maybe Eatmon Road was the wrong place for such an investment. But the county can’t keep saying no to private soccer fields unless it’s willing to say yes to more public ones.