04/28/09 — Zoning confusion will delay meeting

View Archive

Zoning confusion will delay meeting

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 28, 2009 1:46 PM

A Thursday night public meeting at Whitley Church to gather public comment on whether there is an interest in zoning has been canceled because of what county officials are calling misinformation about the county's intentions and an organization that deals with transportation planning.

County Manager Lee Smith Monday afternoon stopped short of saying that the misinformation is being spread deliberately.

"Is there something deliberate," he said. "I don't know anything deliberate, but I am concerned the information seems to be fairly consistent out there so I do have some concerns there may be a deliberate attempt to get information out there that may not be correct. We want to stop it. We want to get the information, as my daddy used to say, straight from the horse's mouth."

The concern on the county and city's part, Smith said, is that information about zoning is being linked with the powers of Municipal Planning Organizations (MPOs) and Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs) -- neither of which have any zoning authority.

Nor, he said, can they dictate to a property owner that they cannot develop property because a road might run through it one day.

At the same time, Smith, in cooperation with City Manager Joe Huffman, is in the process of contacting state, federal and local officials associated with MPOs and RPOs to set up another public meeting.

"Because of what we see as confusion and information out there that the MPO has some zoning authority we are putting together, as instructed at the last board meeting by the county commissioners, a meeting with speakers from the MPO, state level and federal level, the RPO and DOT to talk about their authority, how they were formed and who is on the boards and what they do what their general duties and responsibilities are," Smith said. "I think we also will clarify at that time what cities, counties and planning boards can do. I think there is some really bad information out there."

The date, time and location have yet to be finalized.

It will be a public meeting and people will be allowed to ask questions, Smith said.

Until that time, county planning officials will not hold, nor will they attend, any meetings related to zoning or MPOs.

County Planning Manager Connie Price's office has received a request for someone to attend a May 7 meeting at New Hope Friends Church. No one from the planning department will attend.

"We want to have this general information meeting first in May then we will be glad to go out, but not until then," Smith said.

Thursday night's meeting at Whitley Church was to have been held to gather public comment on any interest in having the county zone the area along U.S. 70 between Goldsboro and Johnston County.

Price will still be at the church Thursday night to hand out a press release about the county's plans to anyone who still might show up.

In the press release, Smith said, "In Wayne County, MPOs, RPOs and transportation committees have no authority over the issues of zoning or development ordinances. These issues fall under the responsibility of city councils and county board of commissioners for consideration and adoption with required public hearings."

The MPO issue has dogged the county for the past few months.

It started in March when the board, at the request of Commissioner Steve Keen, delayed action on an amended memorandum of understanding between the county and MPO to allow more time for further study.

During the Planning Board's April meeting Keen and Chairman Chris Cox were critical of what they called the MPO's lack of communication. They also said the MPO had challenged the Planning Board's authority by saying it had overstepped its bounds.

The issue ignited an almost hour-long and often terse exchange between Keen and Commissioner Jack Best at last week's commission meeting. Best is an MPO board member.

Best said the MPO and RPO are separate issues from zoning. Keen disagreed.

Keen also raised the issue of Senate Bill 1001 that would allow, by referendum, for counties or municipalities to levy a sales tax to help support public transit.

Smith said he has read the bill and that it appears to give and open up an MPO for some more responsibilities. It also appears to be written for large urban areas like Raleigh or Charlotte, he said.

"But you have got to remember we are early in the session on something like this," he said.

Smith said he thinks that the "little bit of information out there" combined with the timing of the planning meeting and the recent board conversation on MPO and Senate Bill 1001 are fueling the controversy.

"The county Planning Board was going to Rosewood to talk about zoning and development and see what the general public wanted," he said. "There has been discussion in the Rosewood area about development they may or may not want. There is a new Wal-Mart. The place is growing. The area west of Goldsboro is growing so the Planning Board looked at that as probably being a good area to start conversation and ask what the public wants as it relates to development or possible zoning. They were not proposing anything just seeking information.

"I tell our employees we all have the human filter and we hear what we want to hear so when you hear things like planning and zoning it scares folks."

An MPO is a planning area and probably involves roughly 45 percent of Wayne County, Smith said. It is based on population of 50,000 or more in an area.

The MPOs were started in 1962 by Congress to consider planing needs and comprehensive looks at regional transportation.

"It also is to facilitate collaboration of governments, interested parties, residents in the planning process of transportation, not zoning and development," Smith said. "Are zoning and development ordinance connected to transportation? Yes."

A good example is new U.S. 70 Bypass and its interchanges at I795, N.C. 581, U.S. 70, U.S. 13 and U.S. 117. Those areas are going to change, he said.

"Areas that were previously farm and residential are going to be commercial so they are going to change," Smith said. "That is going to mean the county and city, through their planning boards, City Council, county commissioners are going to have to look at how those areas might be utilized and possibly zoned to make sure those interchanges are developed correctly."

The NCDOT has final say on road issues, but the county and city have the responsibility of planning around these roads, he said.

"If decide you want to build along a secondary road in Wayne County, we can give you a septic tank permit, we can give you a permit to put down a well or build a house, but you have to get a permit from NCDOT to put in a driveway," he said.

"Board members are concerned about information about MPOs and RPOs, and it has kind of now mixed into the zoning issue," Smith said.

"We feel strongly that you have got to separate this issue of MPOs and RPOs. Although connected slightly, they are not the authority in oversight of zoning and planning. That falls with the city and the county so we need to separate these issues."