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NC Senate votes to take nearly a thousand acres out of Guilford town

Senate leader Phil Berger, center, joined other Senate Republicans Monday for a press conference outlining the Senate's budget proposal.
Colin Campbell
Senate leader Phil Berger, center, joined other Senate Republicans Monday for a press conference outlining the Senate's budget proposal.

The state Senate voted Wednesday to remove nearly a thousand acres from the Guilford County town of Summerfield.

The deannexation bill was requested by developer David Couch, who wants to build apartments and other housing on the property despite objections from the suburban town's leaders.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, represents the area. He's pushing the legislation sought by Couch after he said the two sides couldn't compromise over the development.

"I feel like we gave the property owner and the town of Summerfield an adequate amount of time to try to work something out," Berger said. "They were unable to do so."

Summerfield is blocking affordable housing and needs to develop a water and sewer system for fire protection and environmental issues, he added. The town is known for requiring large lots for new homes, creating an unusually low density community in a region outside Greensboro that's seeing major population growth.

"Summerfield the largest municipality in the state of North Carolina that is exclusively on wells and septic tanks," Berger said. "As far as fire protection, you're dealing with fairly significant property improvements, where the fire department in many respects is dependent on ponds for the water necessary to fight fires. And I believe that the council in Summerfield has failed to take reasonable steps to address some of those issues."

Berger noted that Guilford County leaders will be responsible for land use and zoning decisions after the bill becomes law.

The town's mayor said this week's Senate action came as a surprise, and he wants to continue negotiations with the developer.

"I'm working to secure a direct meeting with Sen. Berger to correct any misunderstandings about the town's persistent and clear efforts to affect a better outcome for all parties," Mayor Tim Sessoms said in a statement posted to the town's Facebook page. "Our council takes public safety, land use and property rights seriously and these are at the core of trying to solve this critical development issue."

The controversial development is located about 10 miles from the site of a proposed casino in nearby Rockingham County. Supporters of that project, including Berger, have argued it will bring growth and economic development to the area, but Summerfield is one of the neighboring municipalities that have passed resolutions opposing the casino.

Several of the lobbyists representing the Baltimore-based casino developer, The Cordish Companies, are also representing Couch's development company at the legislature.

The bill that passed Wednesday includes other local legislation. It would also extend a meals tax in Mecklenburg County and require Buncombe County to study merging its school districts. And it settles confusion over the location of the county line that separates Granville and Franklin counties.

Final votes on the bill are set for next week in the House and Senate.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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