by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:
NORTH CAROLINA - Stallings residents are accusing a local developer of using thousands of dollars to influence a town council vote.
Council members will vote Monday night on a proposal by MI Homes to amend part of the zoning for the Fairhaven neighborhood in Stallings.
MI Homes is asking to add more homes on smaller lots, at significantly lower values than homeowners said were part of the original development plan.
"They're worried more about selling their homes and getting out, that's business. Great. But don't make our neighborhood suffer for it," said homeowner Greg Collins, who is also a pastor to two nearby churches.
Collins and others who contacted Channel 9 feared the changes would lower home values and pose safety risks.
In a neighborhood already hit hard by foreclosures, Collins said the lower-priced homes planned for Phase II would hurt re-sale efforts by longtime residents.
"Why buy from folks who are trying to sell when you can buy a new house (down there) for $150,000?" Collins asked.
Residents said they had been kept out of the decision process and felt they were being ignored by the developer and town officials alike.
The Stallings Planning Board, which voted unanimously in favor of MI's proposal in August, also noted MI Homes had promised two different amounts of $25,000 and
$5,000 that the developer was willing to donate to the town for Blair Mill park.
"I'm very disturbed by
that ... it doesn't seem ethical, it doesn't even seem legal to me," said resident Joanna Alessi.
"We got sold out for $30,000 when they were making millions upon millions," said homeowner Fran Houston.
In the August Planning Board meeting, an audio recording of the minutes appears to show members and MI Homes representatives laughing over residents' concerns about higher density.
"Each and every one of those members should resign," Alessi said.
One of the Planning Board members is married to town councilman Reed Esarove, which also had residents concerned, prior to Monday night's meeting.
"Our concern begins with the
process ... it's meant to cut out the homeowners here, it's meant to cut out any opposition, and really what we are seeing is the town of Stallings in bed with developers. They really are a rubber stamp," Alessi said.
Town manager Brian Matthews said Esarove could decide to recuse himself from Monday night's vote, if he so chooses.
Matthews declined an on-camera interview but also said that it was not uncommon for developers to offer financial incentives for certain
amenities, like the park.
A representative from MI Homes declined to comment until after Monday night's meeting.