In order to entice a corporation to construct a large poultry processing facility in its jurisdiction, the County, as a member of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, created an LLC to facilitate the purchase and rezone of a tract of land. Eventually, the land was purchased, and the Board twice rezoned the tract, which would permit the poultry processing facility, or other beneficial economic uses should the arrangement not come to fruition.
The court first addressed the City’s contention that it had standing to challenge the rezoning of the parcel. The court stated that the party alleging standing needs to show an injury in fact, traceable to the defendant, that can likely be redressed by the court. The City asserted it had standing because the fields upon which the wastewater will be disbursed are located in a watershed from which the City draws half of its water supply. The court found the City lacked standing to challenge the rezone, because, although it is uncontested that the poultry facility may locate in the future on the rezoned parcel, the separate tracts of land where the wastewater would be disbursed were not subject to the rezone. In fact, the zoning classifications of these separate tracts support the wastewater disbursement. The City further argued that they should be afforded standing because the poultry facility could not exist without these “sprayfields.” The court stated that the converse of that argument is determinative, and ruled that no standing is conferred because “the critical fact is that the sprayfields – whether they belong to Sanderson Farms or any other business – could exist without the processing facility.” As a result, the court ruled the City lacked standing because any ruling of the court would not redress the injury – if the rezone were overturned, these separate tracts could still be used for wastewater disbursement.
In addition, since the water would be treated and disinfected prior to disbursement, the court questioned whether there was any injury in fact. In order for the disbursement to occur, the facility would need to meet state and federal standards. If those standards were not satisfied, causing an injury, “a separate action for violations of environmental regulations may provide the City with the proper remedy.” Thus, standing evaded the City again as there was no injury in fact.
The court then addressed numerous other standing arguments proffered by the City. The court stated that any injury caused by the ability to disburse wastewater is not directly caused by the rezoning. Additionally, the court provided that although standing need not be predicated on owning the land directly affected, or adjacent thereto, in order for the City to show standing based on proximity, it would need to be much closer than the three and a half mile distance in this case.
During the pendency of this appeal, the City moved with the trial court seeking relief from the trial court’s dismissal of the case. This motion was supported by the “new evidence” that the poultry processing facility would use a nearby tract of land as a hatchery. The trial court entered an advisory opinion stating it would have denied the motion had the City not appealed, and further granted the County attorney’s fees and costs incurred as a result of the motion. The Court of Appeals granted the writ of certiorari, vacated the award of fees and costs, but found no abuse of discretion as to the advisory opinion. In agreement with the trial court, the Court of Appeals determined that this information was not new, but rather the evidence proffered merely corroborated a known fact – that nearby land would be needed for use as a hatchery. Thus, the Court of Appeals remanded motion to the trial court for a formal denial.
Morgan v. Nash County, 731 S.E.2d 228 (Ct. Ap. N.C., Aug. 21, 2012).
This opinion can be accessed here.