Neighbors accuse chairman of bully tactics in rezoning his property

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Angry homeowners in one metro neighborhood agree on one thing: they don't trust their county commission chairman one bit.

It all stems from a piece of land owned by Forsyth County Commission Chairman Todd Levent and what his younger brother wants to do with it.

For years Glenn Levent has run a small metal works art studio in a warehouse behind his home along Hamby Road. He makes everything from decorative wine cellar gates to clever pieces of garden art. But he says he wants to start selling his work where he lives.

And that means rezoning his property.

"If people could see the future they'd go, oh cool Glenn. Gee. Sorry we jumped the gun on that," the 53-year-old former auto body specialist told me as we walked his property.

Last fall Levent filed a request to rezone his property from agricultural to industrial. He made the same request for his brother's property next door which he plans to buy so he'll have room to put a big warehouse on the rear of the site. His property already backs up to another industrial parcel.

The rezoning request caught many nearby homeowners by surprise.

But when chairman Levent got involved, the controversy turned even uglier.

"We don't want it! We don't want it!" protesters chanted at one of the public participation meetings held on the chairman's land. Instead of Glenn Levent or his lawyers presiding over the meeting, chairman Levent took over, handing out copies of the state constitution to his critics. He stressed the law was on his brother's side and opponents should negotiate now rather than get stuck with a worse loss in court.

A homeowner recorded the entire meeting.

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Glenn Levent admitted to me it did not go as well. The Forsyth County Planning Commission rejected his request.

"I didn't get the rezoning probably because he was commissioner," he believes. "If he wasn't, I probably would have been better off."

Chairman Levent told me he had every right as a private citizen to lobby neighbors about what could happen to his land. He has agreed not to participate in any discussion with other commissioners when the matter comes before them March 16. He said he will also abstain from voting.

But angry neighbors believe the chairman has already crossed a line.

"I perceived it as a way of using his office and his extensible knowledge to benefit himself," Tony Lobello told me. He's a CPA who lives close by.

"Do you trust him?" I asked a group of residents who met me at their neighborhood playground.

"No. Not at all," said Robert Howard, an engineer. "NOT AT ALL. It'll be like a domino effect. The next guy will say well, I can get rezoning. And then the whole road will be rezoned and then we'll be stuck living next to that kind of development."

They claim Chairman Levent has already tried to intimidate them, responding to online complaints by saying he tracked down the IP address. Then the chairman's wife posted a map with an arrow pointing to the home of one of their biggest critics.

"I think we would have been more receptive if we didn't have the chairman messaging me that he knows where I live and his wife putting a map to my home online," complained Natasha Turner, an upset homeowner who works in the medical field.

The chairman told me the arrow randomly appeared when his wife called up the neighborhood on a map, something we were unable to replicate. The site NextDoor wrote "we have taken appropriate action" with the chairman's wife and the map later disappeared.

Neighbors have used their own online tactics, posting pictures of chairman Levent's head in some unflattering poses.

"They were just no, no, no." stressed Glenn Levent.

A compromise could be in the works between Glenn and the neighbors. His older brother has stayed away from those meetings.

"It hasn't helped me," Glenn stressed. "It's only hurt me."