04/23/09 — County officials debate planning

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County officials debate planning

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 23, 2009 1:46 PM

A Tuesday morning discussion about the county's comprehensive plan quickly deteriorated into a free-for-all as Commission-ers Jack Best and Steve Keen traded barbs about the Planning Board and Goldsboro Municipal Planning Organization.

The argument began after Keen, who also serves on the Planning Board, asked when commissioners could meet to discuss an amended memorandum of understanding with the MPO.

At the center of the debate were questions about the Planning Board's role and authority, zoning and whether the MPO exercises zoning authority as well.

The at-times terse exchange elicited comments from Commissioner John Bell, who questioned the wisdom of having a commissioner on the Planning Board.

"I am not freewheeling," Keen said. "The point I want to get to is that we need to talk to each other, which we are not doing. I have called commissioners time and time again to speak with them about issues and no one talks to me, no one calls me, no one returns my calls. If there are issues, no one comes to me. All this that happened this morning, yesterday, last night, last Tuesday, all of what is going on is not because of me, it's because of you who do not want to get along.

"There are a lot of issues in transportation. I get a lot of questions and I try to go to chairman (Bud Gray) and vice chairman (Best) to get it all out. Until we talk about it without going behind each other's backs and that wall in those rooms, it won't get any better."

It was during the Planning Board's April meeting that Keen and Chairman Chris Cox railed against a lack of communication from the MPO. They also were upset the MPO appeared to be treading on and questioning the Planning Board's authority.

The memorandum was on Tuesday's agenda, but was postponed until May 19 after Commissioner Andy Anderson said he had been out of town and hadn't had time to read the document.

County Manager Lee Smith suggested a meeting between commissioners and the MPO to better understand the organization -- how it was created, its duties, priorities, how it works and how it is funded.

Keen also asked if commissioners could get the MPO minutes. Smith said he would ask the city for them.

"Also, anything from the county at all in reference to what we have allowed them to do," Keen said.

That comment ignited the almost hour-long exchange before the board finally voted to accept Smith's recommendation. No date or time for the meeting was discussed.

"I think the MPO is misunderstood," said Best, who serves on the organization. "It has nothing to do with planning. If you have questions about it, you need to have them answered. I think Lee is on the right track."

As for the Planning Board, that is a panel appointed by the commissioners, he pointed out.

"All it can do is study something and bring it back to commissioners," Best said. "Basically, as I see it, the Planning Board takes directions from commissioners as to where they want you to go. Am I right or wrong about that?"

"You are wrong," Keen replied.

"Tell me why I am wrong," Best said.

"You are wrong because we have already taken a direction from the commissioners," Keen said. "I am going to explain it to you if you give me just a minute.

"We are doing as directed in our duties. My question is that the MPO is made up of such a vast part of Wayne County that's in question, and several landowners in the MPO zone have questions about how the county is moving in this, I guess, zoning we have been asked to look at according to the duties that we have been assigned."

Keen said he simply wants to know what authority the MPO has.

"The MPO has a huge lock on large area telling them what they can or cannot do with their property," he said.

"I think people have gotten the wrong idea that the MPO has the right to zone," Best said.

Commissioners are not really not interested in zoning the county except having the Planning Board look at what do with 1,500 to 2,000 feet around interchanges, Best said.

"I have been advocating that for two years," Keen responded.

"I recommend that be your priority for the next six week and come back with a recommendation," Best said.

"Only after we do the MPO," Keen replied.

"The MPO doesn't have anything to do with it," Best said.

Keen disagreed.

"It has everything to do with it," he said.

Best also said Keen was responsible for stirring up residents in the Rosewood community about plans by a developer to build a housing project there.

"No sir, I haven't stirred up anything," Keen said. "I had nothing to do with it."

"If people in Rosewood want to be zoned so that he does not have the right to do that, they need to come before us and ask to be zoned," Best said. "We have no interest in zoning just to zone in the county. People have a right to do what they want to with their land as long as it's legal."

Best added that people who live near the bypass probably would want to be zoned because of the likelihood of commercial development.

Keen then renewed his complaint that the MPO had told the Planning Board last year it should not approve a subdivision near Mar Mac because it might one day be in the path of a new highway. He said Best told him the planning board had overstepped its authority to let the man build the subdivision.

"I told you we complied with all the provisions," Keen said.

Best told Keen he was right, but that he needed to add the rest of what had been said.

"What I said was there was no right to give him the authority without warning the people who bought land in the subdivision that a highway may go through there one day," Best said.

Keen denied Best had added that part.

At that point, Best said commissioners might need to look at what they had told the board to do.

"You certainly have that right," Keen said.

Anderson said he had served on an MPO for 16 year and that things had changed over the years, including the creation of rural planning organizations, or RPOs. He suggested it was time to look at the MPO in light of "current things."

Commissioner J.D. Evans said the board needs to determine where the authority is and who has the right.

"I don't want to do anymore until that happens," he said.

"You get mixed up with what I am saying," Best said to Keen. "I agree with Lee, but what I am trying to say is that you have a public meeting next week and the MPO and RPO are really not the question you are asking of the people next week. You are asking those people if they have any interest in the county zoning them. That is all it needs to be about. It does not need to be about the MPO and the RPO. They need to be separated."

Best was speaking of a public meeting set for Thursday, April 30, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Whitley Church to accept public comment on the subject of possible zoning along the U.S. 70 corridor between Goldsboro and the Johnston County line.

"I disagree completely," Keen said.

"I don't care," Best said.

"I know you don't care, you have an opinion," Keen said.

Keen said a person in that area might want to zone property commercial, only to have the MPO say it has control of transportation over that piece of property, so it might be best not to go commercial but go residential.

"You are talking about a bill that is not passed," Best said.

At that point, Commis-sioner John Bell said, "We have got to stop this cat fight."

"These are not cat fights, they are property owners that you are taking rights away from," Keen said.

Bell responded, "It may be in our best interest not to have a commissioner on the Planning Board because that same commissioner has got to come up here and either vote up or down on what the Planning Board recommends, so we may need to find a good John Doe citizen to put on that Planning Board and keep commissioners here to make the rulings on what they recommend to us. I have heard this too many times over the past year. I don't think you can be in two camps at one time."