03/15/09 — Next debate: Property rights v. new county roads

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Next debate: Property rights v. new county roads

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 15, 2009 2:00 AM

Preserving the county's thoroughfare rights-of-way may be important, but, said members of the county Planning Board last week, they must also be balanced against the rights of property owners.

The issue came up at the group's meeting last week, but after discussing the formation of a study group to examine it, the board tabled the matter without taking any action.

Planning Director Connie Price explained that the matter came up after recent conversations with the Department of Transportation about the preservation of right-of-way along existing roads.

"The reason we have a 60-foot setback along all secondary roads in the county is so that if a road is widened and it takes 30 feet of a person's front yard they are still going to be left with a 30-foot front yard," Price said.

Changing that preservation would require an amendment to the county's subdivision ordinance that would have to be approved by county commissioners.

For example, Price said, suppose a subdivision is planned and the county knows that a road could be built across it one day based on its approved highway plan.

"The amendment would require the landowner to set it (land) aside and not develop that area and leave it out and work around it," he said.

Board member Brad Wells expressed concern, though, that such an amendment would penalize property owners.

Without it however, Price explained, if the land was developed later it would cost more and involve having to buy houses and relocate them in order to build a road, he said.

Still, Wells said, "I can't see holding property owners back. If it is in the planning stages I understand, but not if it is in just the thinking stage."

Aycock agreed.

He said he could understand if a subdivision is in the planning stage and the county knows that a road is on the plan to be built in 10 years across the property.

"But if you talking about maybe we can build one (road) there one day I don't know about that," he said.

"This is going to be a controversial issue," said board Chairman Chris Cox. "It is a very important issue."

He then suggested a six-member study group made up of three Planning Board members and three citizens.

Keen agreed that examining how this issue would affect property owners and economic devleopment is necessary.

"We need to see how it impacts Wayne County and our tax base and I am afraid if we start handcuffing property owners with their land because of a road system it might affect taxes," Keen said. "I think it's a good idea to know where the roads are going in the future. I think it also is a good idea to see how economics play in it and see how affects our tax base."

According to Price, one benefit of the changes would allow the county to score higher on projects on the state's Transportation Improvement Plan.

The changes would be applicable only to roads that are listed for improvements on the long-range transportation plan and roads that have less right of way than what is recommended in the plan.