Letter Describes ‘Uncontrolled Chaos’ at Oriental Town Meeting

Mr. Martin Spratt, the developer who submitted a rezoning request for an executive RV Park in Oriental, sent the following letter dated (April 12) to the Oriental Town Mayor and Commissioners. Normally these types of letters discussing town matters would be read by the Mayor at the next town meeting. However, this letter was not read by the Mayor at the May 7 meeting. Spratt’s letter is an important one since it describes what the town meeting was like during the discussion of his rezoning request.  It also depicts what monthly meetings in Oriental have evolved into during discussions of other town issues, due largely to a commissioner and a group of agitators armed with misinformation. This group is causing havoc and polarizing our once collegial community.

Judy Smith

April 12, 2024

Mayor and Town Board of Commissioners
Town of Oriental
PO Box 472
Oriental, NC  28571

Sally Belangia, Mayor
Allen Price, Commissioner
Charlie Overcash, Commissioner
Frank Roe, Commissioner
Bonnie Crosser, CPA, Commissioner
Breena Litzenberger, Commissioner

Re: Town Meeting of April 2, 2024

Dear Mayor Belangia and Commissioners:

I am writing this letter to express my deep disappointment at the shameful and embarrassing behavior exhibited by you, the Commissioners and Mayor, and the residents of Oriental, during the Town Meeting of April 2, 2024.

I have successfully developed real property all over the country, including in Pamlico County, North Carolina. In my pursuits, I have utilized the services of extremely competent and talented professionals, including the expert engineering services of Sue Sayger, PE. Ms. Sayger is from a military family and her children have also proudly served in the US Armed Forces. Ms. Sayger has more than thirty years of engineering experience; she is an instructor in the Department of Construction Management at East Carolina University; and in her capacity as a Professional Engineer, she has attended hundreds of public hearings over the course of her career. Never in our careers have we experienced the level of dysfunction, disdain, ridicule, and hostility from public officials or their constituents as what Ms. Sayger experienced during, and in the lead-up to, the Town Meeting of April 2, 2024.

I was seeking to rezone a 21-acre parcel of land at the end of White Farm Road, which I annexed into the Town of Oriental several years ago (based on promises made by others, but not kept).  My ultimate intention was to develop an exclusive, professionally maintained RV park. Based on my wealth of experience building first class properties, I anticipated this project would draw a diverse and interesting group of people who would easily generate more than a million dollars annually for the local economy.

Ms. Sayger presented my rezoning request to the Planning Board of the Town of Oriental in February, 2024, at which time Chair Allison DeWeese made a motion to forward my request to the Town Board, which motion passed unanimously.  Subsequently, without our knowledge, the Planning Board conducted another meeting, on March 20,2024, “to consider the rezoning of the real property.”

At this March 20 meeting, the Planning Board declined to forward a recommendation to the Town Board. This apparent reversal was based on the opposition of several residents that attended this meeting.  Again – we were not informed of this meeting and were not given a chance to address the residents’ concerns. Additionally, it has come to light that, prior to April 2, Commissioner Litzenberger met separately with residents – again, without our knowledge – to receive their concerns about my rezoning request. The result of your machinations is that dozens of ill-informed residents showed up to the Town Meeting on April 2, 2024, highly agitated and prepared to pounce on Ms. Sayger and attack me personally.

In advance of the Town Meeting, you received dozens of emails opposing my rezoning request.  Yet only one was included in the packet you provided to the public for the meeting.  Unlike Ms. Sayger, you were well aware residents were going to attend en masse and angrily oppose the rezoning request. When Ms. Sayger arrived to the meeting, she felt as if she literally had a target on her back.  During the Town Meeting, she was told to sit next to a deputy and exit the meeting via a side door – not for her convenience, but for her safety! Throughout the Town Meeting, you – the Mayor and Commissioners – made almost no effort to control your constituents. In fact, you stoked their ire by pontificating on legal matters without the benefit of counsel. Your constituents interrupted you, the Town staff, and other speakers at will to voice their opposition to anything and everything they did not like. Incredibly, before my rezoning request was even heard, a Commissioner stated, with the tacit support of the entire Board, that they would never approve any rezoning request.

If it was not apparent before, it was certainly clear at that point – the fix was in.  I had essentially forfeited my $1,000 application fee, along with engineering and legal fees, to pursue a request members of the Board had no intention of ever approving. Notwithstanding the fact that your decision was a foregone conclusion, you did not waste an opportunity to sic your angry constituents on Ms. Sayger. When my rezoning request was heard, instead of first calling Ms. Sayger to present the facts, you started by reading a sample of the emails you had received in opposition to the request. Next, you invited my opponents to stand before you and, one-by-one, trash my rezoning request, trash your own planning board, and trash me personally. Before the flogging was over, you “oh-so-generously” allowed Ms. Sayger to attempt to explain the facts to you; but she was constantly interrupted by residents hurling insults and questions at her. After allowing your angry constituents to shout Ms. Sayger down, you gave them one final opportunity to finish their humiliation and attack me personally, before voting unanimously against my rezoning request.

As to the personal attacks made against me in connection with River Run Subdivision, which I developed and thereafter maintained for many years, it was suggested that I had somehow underhandedly amended the covenants for my own personal gain and in a manner that caused the neighborhood to “go to hell.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  First, I am unaware that any such covenant amendment exists – I certainly do not recall substantively amending the original covenants to the subdivision.  I do recall that I managed the Association for years, without compensation and at great personal and financial cost.  Second, I put my blood, sweat, and tears into developing the River Run Subdivision into a first-class community. If the subdivision has in fact “gone to hell” – which I don’t believe is actually the case – it is because the residents and the Association have been unable to effectively enforce the existing covenants.

One speaker, Mr. Clark, had the decency to apologize to Ms. Sayger for his behavior. Unfortunately, he was alone in showing some modicum of decency and decorum. As for you – the Mayor and Commissioners – far from being ashamed of your actions and of the chaos you created, you actually took a moment before voting to encourage folks to show up in similar fashion for all Town Meetings! It is beyond comprehension that you would condone, much less encourage, such conduct. As such, I was compelled to write this letter, so that you might understand how your actions and behavior appear to someone outside of the insular, intolerant bubble that is the Town of Oriental.

Martin Spratt