Raleigh planning director says he was punched at zoning hearing

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJune 28, 2013 

— City Planning Director Mitchell Silver plans to press charges against a woman who he says punched him Tuesday at a planning commission hearing on a controversial Sheetz gas station.

Silver said he took out charges against the alleged attacker Wednesday morning, but a Wake County magistrate said Wednesday afternoon that a warrant hadn’t been issued yet.

Silver – a veteran city planner who recently wrapped up a two-year stint as president of the American Planning Association – has attended countless heated public hearings in his career, but he said Tuesday’s incident marked the first time he’s been assaulted on the job.

“My general feeling is the public certainly has a right to voice their concern or opposition to any matter. However, assaults on an elected or appointed official or staff should not be tolerated,” Silver said Wednesday, declining to comment further.

Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said an officer responded to a call from the council chamber at City Hall, but because the case would be classified as a simple assault, Silver was responsible for filing charges.

City Manager Russell Allen said he learned of the incident Wednesday. He said Silver was punched in the shoulder shortly after the planning commission approved rezoning for a Sheetz gas station in Northeast Raleigh. The alleged attacker, he said, “was not satisfied with the outcome.”

“I’ve encouraged him to press charges as I would with any employee,” Allen added. “It’s never ever acceptable for someone to be assaulted in their line of duty.”

Lillian Thompson, an opponent of the gas station who used to work in Silver’s department, admitted Wednesday night that she had a heated exchange with Silver but described the contact as a “tap on the shoulder.”

“I admit it was inappropriate and I did apologize,” she said. “... He was not hurt in the least bit.”

She said her email apology sent Tuesday did not get a reply from him, and she was unaware of any pending charges against her.

While Allen says he sometimes requests police officers at city council meetings that might get heated, planning board meetings don’t typically fit the bill. “Planning commission and zoning cases can be contentious, but never elevated to that state,” he said.

The proposed 24-hour Sheetz at the intersection of New Hope and Buffaloe roads has been a hot topic in surrounding neighborhoods for months. Neighbors are worried that the gas station would worsen traffic, erode the character of their neighborhood and send property values tumbling.

The planning commission voted 5-3 to approve rezoning, which will go before the Raleigh City Council next month.

Staff writer Sarah Barr contributed to this report.

Campbell: 919-829-4802

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