Ayers v. Board of Adjustment for the Town of Robersonville, 113 N.C. App. 528, disc. rev. denied, 336 N.C. 71 (1994)

Interpretation of forestry to exclude timber activities that are industrial in nature from a residential-agricultural area effectuates intent of ordinance.

Petitioner, who operates a timber weighing and grading business in the RA-20 residential-agricultural district in the town's extraterritorial jurisdiction, challenged the board of adjustment's determination that his use of the land does not fall within the definition of forestry and is therefore not a permitted use in the district. Petitioner's business consists of receiving truckloads of cut timber, which are unloaded, weighed and graded, then reloaded onto trucks for shipment to other locations. The town's zoning ordinance does not define the term forestry, but the board of adjustment interpreted it to mean the development, management and harvesting of growing timber.

On certiorari review, the superior court adopted a more expansive definition of forestry that included the harvesting and transportation of timber to the first point of processing; that is, the point at which the wood is actually converted to some type of useable product, and concluded that petitioner's business did constitute a permitted use in the RA-20 zone.

Applying a de novo standard of review, however, a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals reversed the superior court and reinstated the decision of the board of adjustment. In attempting to ascertain the intent of the ordinance, the Court gave weight to ordinance language indicating that the purpose of the RA-20 provisions is to establish a district in which the principal use of the land is for low density residential and agricultural use, and to the fact that the RA-20 permitted uses are uniformly non-industrial. The Court concluded that the ordinance manifests an intent that the district be free from non-agricultural commercial operations, and that the board of adjustment's limitation of forestry to the development, management and harvesting of timber is consistent with this intent. The superior court's expansive definition, on the other hand, would permit ancillary timber activities of an industrial nature that are incompatible with residential and agricultural purposes, such as large rail and truck depots and industrial operations performing intermediate but not final processing of timber. The Court bolstered its conclusion by reference to dictionary definitions of forestry, finding the town's approach to more closely resemble the plain and ordinary meanings of the term embodied in these definitions.
[Land Use; Definitions; Forestry]