BY DAVID L. PRESSLY JR.
In the fall of 2019, the City of Statesville Planning Department requested proposals from qualified planning firms to update the city’s land development plan. City officials reviewed a number of respondents and ultimately chose Clarion Associates, a Chapel Hill firm. In its November 6, 2019, Letter of Intent to the city planning department, Clarion Associates representatives wrote and disclosed that they have no conflicts of interest with updating Statesville’s land development plan. But something unexpected happened between that disclosure of no conflicts of interest and the public release of the plan August 10, 2021.
The work on the plan by Clarion and the Statesville Planning Department was secret to all but a select few until it was released publicly August 10, 2021. The secret plan richly rewards the Martin Marietta quarry area along the North Center Street corridor at N.C. Highway 115 and Interstate 40 with a magical purple color, which sprinkles heavy industry designation over the entire neighborhood. With the heavy industry designation, Martin Marietta, which has been successful in all eight of its rezoning attempts, can move its blast pit closer to North Statesville residential neighborhoods and add concrete and asphalt plants with a simple rezoning. This opportunity for quarry expansion will continue the devastation and destruction to North Statesville residential neighborhoods.
In February of 2021, Martin Marietta proposed proposed a rezoning and expansion of its operation, which would move the quarry into residential neighborhoods, including our own. We were completely surprised and stunned by the Statesville Planning Department, which recommended the quarry’s heavy industry expansion into residential neighborhoods.
What was even more startling was the fact that many in our Planning Department are members of the American Institute of Certified Planners, which has a comprehensive Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. In recommending the quarry be expanded into residential neighborhoods, planning department members defied and rejected so many of their own ethical principles to which planners aspire. This is bad planning at its worst. It’s great for Martin Marietta, but bad for Statesville residential neighborhoods.
Only then did we learn of Martin Marietta’s long-time relationship with Mayor Costi Kutteh’s law firm. Does that explain why the Planning Department was recommending the quarry expand into North Statesville residential neighborhoods, against all planning concepts and against their own Code of Ethics?
During the quarry rezoning process, there were a number of us in the conference room next to the City Council chambers. As we stood around the conference room table, the Martin Marietta lawyer Tom Johnson said: “If we just had your new land use map, we would not have this problem with the Presslys.” To which Statesville City Planning Director Sherry Ashley responded, “Yes.”
Once the secret Clarion plan was released to the public on August 10, we knew that Martin Marietta had the new land plan draft long before most of our citizens. And it became quite obvious why the plan was kept secret and restricted to only a select few for such a long time before our citizens saw the plan. City Hall officials did not want our citizens to know the plan favored the quarry owners.
Next, recognizing someone inside City Hall had influenced the land development plan draft, we sent a Public Records Request to city officials requesting public records regarding the Martin Marietta rezoning as well as the drafting of the new Statesville land development plan. Among the incomplete public records we received are memos from Clarion Associates relating to the purple color on the land map which will permit easy expansion for Martin Marietta.
We read the first memo from Clarion dated January 19, 2021, describing Primary Uses for the cleverly-stated Employment Center/Industrial Flex as manufacturing, industrial, maker spaces, commercial and office use. The Primary Uses do not mention heavy industry as a land-use. The second Clarion memo February 22, 2021, indicated Primary Uses as manufacturing, heavy and light industrial, flex office, commercial and others. The third memo from Clarion April 30 indicated Primary Uses as heavy and light industrial, office-corporate campus and others. Clearly, the plan evolved purposely to favor Martin Marietta.
Back in the spring of 2021, Martin Marietta knew the heavy industry characteristics in the evolution of the Clarion land development plan. Someone — and no one will say who — cleverly designated heavy industry in the quarry neighborhood for the benefit of Martin Marietta to expand their blast pit and add concrete and asphalt plants, to the detriment of residential neighborhoods in North Statesville.
Now we know why the Planning Department request for consultant proposals purposely restricted communication regarding the development of plan to city staff, the consultant, and the land development committee. It resulted in a secret plan restricted to only a select few. We know Mayor Kutteh’s law firm previously represented the quarry before the Planning Board and City Council. Mayor Kutteh never told the City Council nor his citizens that his law firm represented the quarry. Did the mayor have a financial interest in the rezoning outcome? We also know that Councilman William Morgan has voted for quarry expansion toward North Statesville residential neighborhoods since June 23, 2009.
We know that the quarry’s expansion over the years has nearly destroyed residential neighborhoods of Bradley Farm Road, Carrington, and its destructive influence goes northward to Monticello and Northmont. Quarry dust is present as far south as Summit Avenue. Quarry blast vibration is felt at Ridgeway. We know quarry proximity depresses home values and makes homes difficult to sell.
We know many Statesville citizens are angry and have lost confidence in the City Hall upon learning taxpayers paid about $150,000 for the Clarion plan, which directly benefits the Martin Marietta quarry. And we know Mayor Kutteh and his associates own nearly half of the undeveloped 130 acres on Davie Avenue referred to in the Clarion plan. The Clarion plan designates the mayor’s land as a long-term Strategic Focus Area for “future public investments,” which will enhance the mayor’s land value.
The path forward for the land development plan is clear. We know now why the plan was kept secret from most of our citizens for more than a year and a half. Yet Martin Marietta had access to the plan months before most of our citizens knew major aspects of the plan sprinkled purple magic on the quarry.
Recognizing the soiled, tainted, and corrupted proposed new city land plan benefits only a select few in Statesville as well as out of town millionaires, citizens will never have confidence in this plan as long as City Hall uses the plan. Statesville citizens must reject the proposed plan. The powerful forces in City Hall never should have developed a secret land plan which favors millionaires with special access to the City Hall at the expense of most of our citizens.
The solution? Mayor Kutteh should resign today and ask his law firm’s longtime client to reimburse the city $150,000 paid by Statesville taxpayers for a soiled, corrupted land plan biased and unfairly focused on the needs of out-of-town millionaires at the expense of North Statesville residential neighborhoods. Our City Hall is out of touch and out of time.
David L. Pressly Jr. is a former Statesville mayor and former Member of the Statesville City Council.