05/05/09 — Meeting planned for citizens to view MPO

View Archive

Meeting planned for citizens to view MPO

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 5, 2009 1:46 PM

A lack of information, not misinformation, is what is driving the public's concerns about the powers of the Goldsboro Municipal Planning Organization, organizers of a Thursday night public meeting say.

In recent weeks, the MPO's authority has been questioned, with some residents fearing the transportation planning group has the power to supersede decisions made by the county Planning Board and Board of County Commissioners.

"The meeting is going to be little more involved and have more information than what had been expected," James Herring said "Three NCDOT officials will attend and answer questions about the MPO and technical issues."

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at New Hope Friends Church on U.S. 70 East.

Meanwhile, plans for a joint county-city public meeting on the issue should be made final by the end of the week. The meeting will be open to the public and questions will be taken, County Manager Lee Smith said.

Smith said state, federal and local officials associated with MPOs and Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs) are being invited.

Thursday's meeting, Herring said, is being sponsored by a group of concerned citizens.

He said that several local legislators have been invited to attend, along with City Council Member Chuck Allen and county Planning Board Chairman Chris Cox.

"We want it to be a good informative meeting and get information out to the citizens of Wayne County," Herring said.

Between 300-400 people are expected to attend, he said. Maps and information will be available.

"This is black and white stuff," he said. "There is some indication we are confusing zoning with MPOs. What we are really after is the truth to come out."

Herring said he wants those who attend the meeting to keep an open mind and listen to the MPO, the county and all sides of the issue.

County Planning Director Connie Price had been invited to the meeting. However, at the commissioners' April 21 meeting, Smith said no county planning staff would attend the meeting or any subsequent meetings until the county-city session is held.

Smith said he plans to attend the meeting and might bring a board member as well

"I am looking forward to Thursday's meeting and the opportunity for folks to get the correct information about the MPO that has been in place and active for over 25 years," Smith said. 'There seems to be a lot of confusion about the authorities and duties of the MPO, and this meeting should hopefully clear up the confusion. The MPO in Wayne County does not have zoning authority and cannot take land or land rights from owners.

"The MPO is simply a planning organization that looks at present and future transportation projects within the boundaries set forth by state and federal policy. All local governments in Wayne County and in the MPO boundary have representatives on the MPO and those representatives bring the priorities of the cities and county to the MPO. Property rights are not at stake with regard to the MPO."

A public meeting was to have been held last Thursday night at Whitley Church to gather public comment on whether there is an interest in zoning. The meeting was canceled because of what county officials said is misinformation being spread about the county's intentions and the MPO.

Smith has stopped short of saying the misinformation is being spread deliberately, but he has expressed concerns that could be the case.

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

Neither organization can dictate to a property owner that they cannot develop property because a road might run through it one day.

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

"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."

During the Planning Board's April meeting Commissioner Steve Keen, who is a member of both the Board of Commissioners and the Planning Board, and Cox were critical of what they called the MPO's lack of communication with other local boards. They also said the MPO had challenged the Planning Board's authority by saying it had overstepped its bounds.

The Wayne MPO contains roughly 45 percent of Wayne County. The districts were created in 1962 by Congress to consider planing needs and comprehensive looks at regional transportation. They exist only in areas with a significant municipal population -- at least 50,000 people.

Wayne is grappling with how to plan for an extensive highway project, the new U.S. Bypass that will run north of the existing bypass. It will have an enormous affect on development in its corridor.