05/08/09 — Audience questions MPO's power, responsibilities

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Audience questions MPO's power, responsibilities

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 8, 2009 1:46 PM

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Municipal Planning Organization Chairman and City Council member Chuck Allen addresses the nearly 200 people at the meeting Thursday night at New Hope Friends Church to discuss the MPO.

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Billy Uzzell broaches the subject of the Beston Road intersection during the meeting to discuss the Municipal Planning Organization on Thursday at New Hope Friends Church. Uzzell said his property value was diminished by the new intersection.

Nearly 200 people packed the New Hope Friends Church educational building Thursday night, ostensibly to learn about the Goldsboro Municipal Planning Organization -- its origins, what it is, who is on it and what its powers are.

But it was obvious from the audience comments and questions that the people who attended the meeting were eastern Wayne County residents who are still upset with the state's decision to rework the Beston Road intersection with U.S. 70 rather than install a stoplight as they had preferred.

The meeting was sponsored by the Eastern Wayne Association of Property Owners.

Recent exchanges between the county Planning Board and the MPO board have led to confusion over the authority to control development in the county. Thursday's meeting was intended to answer public questions about the powers and intent of each.

But the discussion ranged further and touched on property rights in general.

Several speakers said they are worried over what they called the county's attempts to infringe on the rights of property owners. Several land owners lambasted the county for trying to deprive them of their right to develop their property without having to contend with county zoning.

One speaker even went as far as to say the county was attempting to "sucker punch" the community to position the Village of Walnut Creek to create an extraterritorial jurisdiction -- something adamantly opposed by local property owners.

"Absolutely not," said Walnut Creek Mayor Darryl Horne. "It is a dead issue."

County Commissioner Steve Keen, who also serves on the Planning Board, and Planning Board Chairman Chris Cox took credit, or blame, for bringing what had been an low-profile organization, the MPO, into the public spotlight.

Some speakers accused planning officials of dealing behind closed doors and failing to let the people know what is going on.

Those comments prompted David Quick, who serves on the MPO, to remind the crowd that the meetings are not only open to the public but that they are advertised in advance.

Yet, Quick said, very few people show up for the meetings.

The county is in the midst of updating a long-range transportation plan, but only three people from the public showed up at the last meeting, he said.

One speaker suggested the meetings were not being advertised in the right places. Quick responded by saying they are being advertised in all available media, newspapers, TV and radio.

When moderator Jimmy Herring asked for a show of hands of how many people had ever heard of a MPO only two hands went up.

Herring said he had read about a planned meeting at Whitley Church to discuss zoning in several areas around the county including Dollard Town Road and Beston Road.

"I couldn't understand what Dollard Town Road had to do with Rosewood and U.S. 70," he said. "And the MPO kept coming up."

Herring was referring to a meeting the Planning Board had scheduled to gather public comment about zoning. It was canceled after county officials said misinformation was being spread linking the MPO and zoning. The county has identified several areas around the county that might be suitable for zoning but no action has been taken.

And it was pointed out Thursday that community meetings and public hearings would be required before anything zoning could be considered.

Herring said the more questions he asked the more frustrated he became. That, he said, was when he decided it was time to have the people who deal with MPO's to help the public understand them.

Herring urged those in the audience to keep an open mind and to be civil.

Ricky Greene, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation's Division 4 , presented an overview of MPO's. He was assisted by Travis Marshall and James Upchurch of the DOT's planning division.

Greene told the audience that the MPO's have been around since the 1960, when they were formed by Congress. Their job, he said, is to look at transportation needs for the next 25 to 30 years.

An MPO's creation is based on U.S. Census data and is created when the population of an area reaches 50,000. The size of the area, which appeared to concern residents, can change every 10 years based on census data.

The MPO, like the Wayne County Transportation Committee, has no zoning authority, he said.

The county benefits from having an MPO by receiving federal funds.

Randy Graham was one of several speakers who spoke in opposition to any zoning.

"I am opposed to paying taxes on land then not being able to do anything I want to with unless somebody else says you can," he said.

Ricky Whitfield wanted to know why Goldsboro has two representatives on the MPO, while the county, a larger area, has only one.

"It doesn't look right," he said.

It was just the way it was originally formed, said DOT's James Upchurch.

"The MPO has the authority to change it," Upchurch said.

Whitfield also questioned how long a person could serve on the MPO.

MPO Chairman Chuck Allen, who also serves on the City Council, said the appointment is based on position not who the person is -- the position being a council member or county commissioner. As such, a person may serve as long as they are a council member, he said.

Billy Uzzell broached the Beston Road controversy when he said his property had been devalued when the project limited access to it.

"The MPO cannot tell you what to do with your property," Greene said. "I assume you are talking about Beston Road."

Greene said he regretted that the decision not to place a stoplight was inconveniencing area residents. However, the decision was based on safety and keeping traffic moving, he said. In the two years before the change along the 2.5 miles of road 45 people were injured in wrecks compared to 19 since the work was done. The number of wrecks has decreased as well, he said.

Randy Allen said that what had piqued his interest was the ability to establish right-of-way protection without the consent of the property owner.

That, Allen said is not true.

The MPO has been around since 1983 but up to two months ago hardly anybody knew about it, he said.

"All we are is a planning organization," he said. "All we can do is plan."

Cox said that even though he is on the Planning Board that he did not find out about the MPO until April 2008. The Planning Board had approved a subdivision in the Mar Mac area at that time. Cox said MPO officials said the Planning Board had overstepped its bounds by doing so since a road could go through the property one day.

"The Planning Board is not hiding anything," he said. "The reason we are probably here tonight is because we brought it to the table."

Jimmy Kornegay asked why Pikeville, Fremont and Mount Olive were not in the MPO.

Those towns, Greene said, are in a Rural Planning Organization (RPO) that is similar to the MPO but deals with rural areas.