ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The Rockingham County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to rezone 192 acres of farmland near Madison to highway commercial usage, after weeks of heavy opposition from hundreds of people in the county.
Officials with Camp Carefree, a special needs children camp that borders the parcel, were opposed to the rezoning.
“It seems like a lot of what was taken into consideration was not made on behalf of the community, more so the applicant and the people they represented, so we’re still going to continue to fight however we can and continue to carry on our legacy and continue to support our kids with special needs,” said Ryan Joyce with Camp Carefree.
Commissioners Kevin Berger, Mark Richardson, Donald Powell, Charlie Hall and Houston Barrow all said they have to vote in favor of the property owner.
“It’s our job to do what’s right for 92,000, and … it’s a difficult job on occasion,” Board Chairman Mark Richardson said.
Barrow said in the hundreds of calls and emails objecting to the rezoning, no one mentioned the property owner’s rights.
“Anybody in this county could have purchased this land. It’s been for sale,” Barrow said.
Powell said it was the board’s job to approve the rezoning request, even though the interested buyer has ties with Cordish Companies, which is a casino developer.
“I don’t believe it’s the government’s job to tell people when they can sell their land and what they can do with it,” Powell said.
Two commissioners, including Powell, took issue with the idea Rockingham County should stay rural.
“One of the things I’ve heard a lot is, ‘We like to sit on our front porch and look at cows.’ I understand that,” he said.
Commissioner Berger, son of North Carolina Senate leader and casino proponent Phil Berger, said that development has been the plan for decades.
“It’s been a goal of the entire county to develop that entire corridor,” Berger said.
The vote officially makes the land highway commercial, but those opposed to a casino, including Rockingham County’s own sheriff Sam Page, will keep fighting against it.
“We’ll be down in Raleigh. We’ll be talking to our House members. We’ll be talking to our senators … the big story is casinos, trying to bring those to Rockingham County, and we have our concerns about those,” Page said.
Hundreds in attendance left the meeting upset, and opposition leader Doug Isley had three words when asked for his reaction: “It’s not over.”
Plans for any development on that land would have come before commissioners in the future.
It’s important to remember casinos aren’t legal in North Carolina outside of tribal land.
State Republicans are trying to decide whether the new state budget should be used to legalize casinos.
A vote on the budget isn’t supposed to happen until next month.