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Smithfield resolves neighbors’ permit dispute

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SMITHFIELD — The Smithfield Town Council resolved a neighbors’ dispute at its May 7 meeting, granting a special-use permit to Bonnie Godwin for a home on North Street, 100 feet from its intersection with North Seventh Street.

Dr. Richard Lee, who has a medical practice next to Godwin’s house, objected to Godwin’s request during a public hearing at the council’s April 2 meeting.

Council members continued Godwin’s request to the May meeting in hopes that she and Lee might resolve their differences. Since the April meeting, Godwin had a surveyor identify the property line’s location.

In spite of Godwin’s efforts, town Planning Director Stephen Wensman said, “There appears to be no willingness by Dr. Lee to compromise on the residential use of Godwin’s property. Half the driveway between the two properties belong to both Godwin and Lee. There’s been no change in their positions, except that we now know where the property lines are.”

“Either property owner could technically put a fence up,” said Smithfield Mayor Andy Moore. “This may or may not prevent the other from utilizing the driveway.”

“You could end up litigating the rights of the driveway,” said Smithfield Town Attorney Robert Spence.

Lee submitted a petition with more than 60 names protesting the permit request. He also shared photos as part of a planning department PowerPoint slide presentation.

“Look at that all downhill slope,” said Lee. “ It goes straight to Johnston Health. Last month, we talked about patient safety and children’s safety. This street is full during the business day. Children’s baseballs or basketballs would go straight to the hospital.”

Lee said both he and another tenant couldn’t get a vehicle in the disputed driveway.

“Both of us can’t get a vehicle in that driveway — someone has to give, especially with a medical transport,” said Lee.” There’s only one driveway with access to my building, it’s not a functional shared driveway.”

Lee said the whole area is commercial and is not family-friendly

“You can’t put a fence without blocking patient care,” said Lee. “Ambulance drivers this signed petition too.”

Lee said he’d told Dr. Renee Watson, Godwin’s daughter, that if there was any way to get a commercial business in that location, neighboring businesses would help any way they could.

Smithfield Mayor Pro-tem Travis Scott expressed frustration.

“She (Godwin) has the right to do what she pleases with the town’s approval,” said Scott. “Since you couldn’t make an agreement, you’re forcing us to make the decision.”

“When I was here before, you asked if we could work together, both share in a survey, that didn’t happen,” said Godwin. “I did my own survey, and my driveway is not a shared driveway. We bought this property June 29, 2017, tried to rent it commercially. While all of these places may have been commercial for a while, they all started as residential. I hope you guys will consider I’ve done everything I can. We’ve had this property for two years and this isn’t a shared driveway.”

Godwin added: “I alone did the survey. I’ve done everything, to find commercial renters. They aren’t there.”

“We wanted an amicable agreement. That’s what good neighbors do and what Smithfield’s about,” said her daughter, Dr. Renee Watson. “It’s been two years. We’ve tried to get commercial tenants and they aren’t interested. Richard said one of his concerns was that it would drive down property values if a residential dwelling was put next to his office.”

Godwin was asked if she’d be willing to put up a fence to divide the two properties.

“I could put up a fence in the back, but I don’t see where I need a fence,” said Godwin. “ If I had family living there and thought it was needed, I would address it. But this is not a shared driveway.”

Lee continued to dispute the status of the driveway between the two properties.

“I’ve put a lot of money into my property for commercial use,” said Lee. That’s a shared driveway, anyone who sees it can tell. No two vehicles side by side can use it.”

The council voted unanimously to approve Godwin’s request, with the stipulation that she build a fence from the rear property line to the rear of the house.