North Raleigh resident Emily Smith says some of her neighbors questioned why she was canvassing door to door, hoping to prevent a German-based multinational corporation from expanding its Crabtree Quarry operation, just a few hundred yards from her property.
"Some said things like, 'Do you really think any change can come of this?' and 'What difference can one person make?'" Smith said.
Four months later, Smith, a member of blockthequarry.org, now 1,635 people strong, exchanged handshakes and high fives as Raleigh City Council denied the rezoning request by Hanson Aggregates Southeast, owned by Heimelberg Cement. As a result, the quarry expansion was nixed.
Hanson representatives did not attend the meeting. Days earlier, facing the organized citizen campaign and a unanimous vote against their rezoning request from the Raleigh Planning Commission, attorney Gray Styers notified the city that the company was withdrawing its proposal due to "current political realities surrounding this case." It was too late to remove the vote from the council agenda.
Organizer Andrew Meehan said it wasn't politics that prevailed, but the fact that neighborhood activists presented a strong case that the damage to residents outweighed any promised benefits to the city.
"They were facing complete opposition at this point, and I think they sort of threw in the towel," Smith said. "It really does speak to being able to effect change, at least at a local level."
Operators have been mining at Crabtree Quarry, located between Duraleigh and Ebenezer Church roads, since the 1940s. The recent proposal marks the latest attempt to add to the site. Hanson negotiated to purchase 100 acres valued at $12 million from developers of the adjacent Hamptons at Umstead, Phase II, which had its streets paved and named but nothing else except vacant lots. But as a condition of the sale, Hanson needed the city to change the zoning from residential to industrial to allow granite mining west of the current pit.
In exchange for the rezoning, the company offered to drop a longstanding lawsuit challenging the City Council decision that prevents the company from expanding south along Crabtree Creek. The company said that it would also allow the city to build a vital greenway connection through the existing Hanson property and to provide the old pit for flood control.
Hanson Aggregates Southeast Vice President Chris Ward called that proposed agreement "the clearest and best solution for everyone involved" and "our best path to reserving our long-term position."
But neighbors say the carrots dangled in front of the city by Hanson Aggregates were "overstated" and "hollow." They attribute their successful defeat of quarry expansion not just to the number of activists involved, but also to their expertise. Some were engineers who used federal maps to evaluate the company's flood control data; others were lawyers who built a legal case using, in particular, Raleigh's 2030 Comprehensive Land Plan. Still others were professionals and lobbyists who created databases for email campaigns and secured meetings with council members.
Matt Alvarez, who lives in Phase I of Hamptons at Umstead, launched the neighbors' website in November. He described the movement as a relay race in which neighbors worked tirelessly before passing the baton. "We had a great group of people who really filled some great roles that we needed at just the right time," he says.
They told anyone who would listen, using their website, yard signs and social networking to rally supporters.
In January when the City Council held a public hearing on the rezoning, Alvarez was one of 400 people in the packed audience dressed in red. Only a handful of folks, mostly Hanson representatives, attended in support. Neighbors also swarmed to Citizens Advisory Council meetings.
Earlier this month, neighbors convinced the Planning Commission that the area should remain residential, consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, because of the impact to the surrounding community. The group, in an 8-0 vote, found the company's request "unreasonable and not in the larger public interest."
Hanson couldn't prove that their flood control plan was feasible or that property values wouldn't decrease as a result of the blasting. The commission also noted that Hanson has enough granite to continue to operate in Crabtree Quarry for at least another 20 to 30 years.
"When enough people get together and have a common goal with some organization behind them, their voice can be heard within our system of city government," said John Jones, president of Delta Ridge Townhome Association, which abuts the site.
"I appreciate the way the city listened to us and also listened to the facts and the arguments that Hanson made. We understand that they are a company acting in their best interests, and we were acting in our best interests."