Rezoned property helps Hmong expand

A Catawba County Hmong association wants to expand and share its culture with others. Property recently re-zoned by county commissioners should help that happen more quickly.

Catawba County commissioners re-zoned land belonging to the Hmong Southeast Puavpheej, Inc. association last month from residential to a mixed-use district – a move that will allow the Hmong to build a multi-purpose facility that will be used for festivals and cultural education.
Prior to the rezoning, the residential tag on the property prevented the group from building, which has been a desire of the organization for a long time, said Pao Lee, president of Hmong Southeast Puavpheej, Inc.
“There has been an influx in the Hmong population in Catawba County, but a lot of people still don’t know about our culture,” Lee said. “This will help teach people about our culture and bring more people to Catawba County, so they can bring more jobs and stay in local hotels, shop at restaurants, and so on.”

The new facility would probably go on the Hmong association’s property at 3400 Rocky Ford Road in Newton. Lee said preliminary plans are for a 100 foot by 200 foot building that will also have a separate bathroom facility. Inside, there will be a large open area and kitchen for cooking.
While the multi-purpose building will be used for cultural gatherings and different types of parties, Lee said the group also hopes to build a Hmong museum inside the facility that would feature cultural clothing and various educational resources.

“The ultimate goal is a museum,” Lee said. “We want people to know who we are, and as soon as the building is set up, we want to open it to the public. This is for everyone.”

The Hmong’s newly rezoned land also allows them to expand their largest festival of the year, the New Year celebration. The four-day celebration around Thanksgiving currently brings anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people a day to the Hmong’s land in Newton. Pao’s wife, Pa, said they have run out of space.

“What we have at the property does not even fit the New Year celebration now,” Pa said, “but the new zoning will help us deal with larger crowds.”
Pao said they can build more parking spaces on their land and will now be permitted to welcome more people to the festivals.

This year, the New Year celebration will take place on Nov. 24-27 6 a.m.-6 p.m. on the Hmong Southeast Puavpheej, Inc. property at 3400 Rocky Ford Road in Newton. The event is open to the public and will feature traditional dancing and other cultural practices.
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How it happened

The property was rezoned as part of an Eco-Tech development process put forth by the Catawba County planning. The property lies within the U.S. 321 corridor that is central to the Eco-Tech plan. Catawba County Planner Chris Timberlake said the rezoning request was something the county discussed with the Hmongs for quite some time.

“They had come to us for some time for a temporary permit at that location, and talked about future plans of actually having a facility near their volleyball fields and soccer fields,” Timberlake said. “But with a residential property, the best we could do was issue temporary permits for their festivals.”

Timberlake said the Eco-Tech plan supports the Hmong request to rezone their property, and the Hmong association will not be charged for the rezoning request because there was public hearing and advertisement about the property.

“Because the plan supported that property, the recommendation to rezone the property had all fit what the plan proposed,” Timberlake said. “It was much easier to do that without charging them.”