04/21/09 — Planning board members upset at past, future conflicts with MPO

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Planning board members upset at past, future conflicts with MPO

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 21, 2009 1:46 PM

Wayne County Planning Board members expressed frustration and indignation last week over what they say is the Goldsboro Municipal Planning Organization's lack of communication and its questioning of the board's authority.

Board Chairman Chris Cox and board member and county Commissioner Steve Keen also voiced concerns over the size of the area under the MPO's control as they questioned when and who had decided on the scope and influence of the MPO.

Cox expressed frustration as well that his requests have gone unanswered for the minutes of the Transportation Advisory Committee and the Technical Coordinating Committee, which make up the MPO.

Keen noted that the MPO covers 128,999 of the county's 356,578 square miles and has 24,284 of the county's 63,879 parcels of land.

Only 20,161 of the acres fall with the city and its extraterritorial jurisdiction, meaning that a large swatch of rural land is included.

The MPO stretches across the central part of the county from the Lenoir County line in the east, to the Johnston County line in the west. It includes Goldsboro, Walnut Creek and Dudley. It abuts Mount Olive to the south and Pikeville to the north.

Its purpose is to conduct transportation planning and to prioritize projects inside that area. It is made up of two boards.

The TAC consists largely of elected officials, two City Council members and one alternate, a member of the Walnut Creek Village Council and one alternate; a county commissioner and alternate; and one DOT member.

The TCC is similar to an administrative staff and includes county and city support staff members.

County Planning Director Connie Price, who serves as chairman of the TCC, told the board the MPO was created because the population of Goldsboro and surrounding area had reached 50,000. The MPO is required for the purpose of transportation planning. It was established in the early 1980s. Walnut Creek was brought in at a later date.

Keen had asked Price to put together a map and statistics about the MPO, the number of parcels, acres, population and other statistics and was asked to explain what the MPO is and how it affects planning in the county's jurisdiction.

The discussion drifted to the MPO after the board revisited the issue of thoroughfare right-of-way protection that it had tabled at its last meeting. The board never did act on the right-of-way issue, concentrating instead on the conflict with the MPO.

Cox said he had been approached by an elected official who said the Planning Board had overstepped its bounds when it approved a subdivision last year in the Mar Mac area. Cox said the MPO said an extension of Interstate 795 might go through the property one day.

"We didn't have a choice," Cox said. "It is a property rights issue. The guy had a piece of land the MPO said a road may be going through one day. It was not recorded in the courthouse. It was just on a map that said a road might go through there one day. How can we approve or disapprove somebody doing something with their property? We can't. If it meets all of the rest of the ordinance, how can we not approve it?"

Former Planning Board chairman Wayne Aycock who was at the meeting agreed that the board had no choice but to approve the subdivision.

Cox added that the Planning Board cannot fulfill its duties if it is forced to operate in the dark about MPO plans.

"If the MPO is starting to get into the Planning Board's business should we not know about it," Cox said. "They are in our business. Do you think we overstepped our bounds? I don't."

Cox said the public needs to be involved in the planning phase and not made aware of something after it already has been approved.

Keen said he remains concerned about the MPO's long-range planning transportation plan and the rights of property owners.

"I understand what the NCDOT and thoroughfare right-of-way preservation is trying to do that has come before," Keen said. "It goes back to what we did a year and a half ago with a subdivision out on I think on Providence Church Road and U.S. 13. Whenever we did that, the MPO had requested that we not approve that, and we did approve it.

"Since then we have put together a comprehensive land use plan and it was approved in the early part of '08 by commissioners, and we have been asked to make some decisions here that I think sometimes steps on the toes of the MPO. They ask us for our opinions on what we think they should do and we give those to them and they reject them."

Keen was referring to a Planning Board request that the MPO conduct economic impact analysis on property values along highways and send it to the TCC.

The MPO had asked the Planning Board for its approval and comments on a highway priority list. The Planning Board approved the list, but added an amendment for the economic analysis. It was rejected.

"They declined to accept that as suggestion from the Planning Board to look at when they are laying transportation out in the county," Keen said "It did not get to TAC, so the TAC did not know anything about what we had asked them to do.

"When that happened it indicated to us it was not accepted, so I went back and wanted to find out exactly what had happened and to find out if the board had done something wrong for them not to accept our recommendation to look at property values for tax purposes."

Reading from the Planning Board's rules of procedures, Keen said the board, "may make, cause to be made, or obtain special studies... which may include ... traffic, transportation and parking facilities.'

He added that the county's comprehensive plan provides that the Planning Board from time to time can implement proposals for amendments to zoning ordinance based upon a study.

Keen said it was those and other concerns that earlier this month had prompted him to ask his fellow commissioners to pull approval of a new memorandum of understanding between the county and the MPO out of the consent agenda. The item is on the commissioners' agenda for today's meeting.

"My question is why is the Wayne County Planning Board left out of this process," Keen said. "I feel like I am in the dark when I make decisions for the county. I just want to be on same page as the MPO when it comes to transportation."

Keen compared the MPO request not to approve the subdivision as "condemnation without compensation." If the MPO says a road is going through the property then "you can't do anything" with it, he said. It is the Planning Board's duty to bring out this information

Former county commissioner Arnold Flowers agreed with Keen.

The land, he said, could remain as farm or timber land, but could not be developed.

"You have taken something of value," Flowers said.

In those cases the property owner should be paid for development rights and if a road is built then the DOT could purchase the property, he said.

"So they get compensated twice," Cox said.

"Yes," Flowers replied.