05/20/09 — Anderson: I-795 zone needs to be addressed

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Anderson: I-795 zone needs to be addressed

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 20, 2009 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Commissioner Andy Anderson.

Protecting the county's highway corridors has been a controversial issue pitting property owners wary of zoning against officials who contend it is needed to safeguard the public and future highway development. Tuesday morning commissioners agreed it is time for them to at least look at the issue.

"I think it is time we do something," Commissioner Andy Anderson said. "We wouldn't be in the condition we are today if somebody had done something 16 years ago. I don't know what we need to do, but we need to do something."

"Are you using the 'z' (zoning) word?" Chairman Bud Gray asked.

"If it takes it," Anderson said. "We do it around shopping areas, schools and airports. I am not saying do it, but we need to look at it. We are coming up on a TIP (state Transportation Improvement Plan) cycle."

Anderson was speaking in particular about the future southward extension of Interstate 795.

During a recent meeting of the Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), state officials reiterated that city and county governments might exercise their respective planning and zoning authority to safeguard the integrity of potential highway corridors. The MPO does not have that authority.

Commissioners Tuesday agreed that once budget work is completed, the county can turn its attention to corridor protection.

The topic is expected to be discussed in July.

Anderson said during Tuesday's board meeting that he had reviewed the last 16 years of MPO meeting minutes that include the need for corridor protection.

The state, he said, lacks the funding to spend the $1.2 million or more to conduct the required economic impact study (EIS) on a corridor for the extension to Interstate 795 south.

"We need to protect that right of way the best we can until the state comes up with the EIS," he said. "One way is for the county to zone the property. That is one option.

"The county could ask for an environmental screening."

Anderson said he is unsure of the difference between a screening and EIS except that the screening might not be as extensive.

During last week's MPO meeting, Mike Bruff head of the Department of Transportation planning office, said the Official Corridor Map Act allows the DOT to file an official map based on a corridor that has been selected through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The DOT, he said, must have a record of a decision on a selected corridor that is recorded in the local Register of Deeds office.

The DOT policy is that the map is not filed until the environmental work is done, Bruff said. The map and three-year period are not triggered until a developer asks to develop the property.

If someone wants to develop property within the corridor, the state can refuse to allow the development for three years. At the end of three years, the DOT would either have to purchase the right of way or let the developer proceed.

The county's population is growing and more and more houses are being built, which could complicate future road projects, Anderson said.

"I think we are obligated to do something," he said.

Commissioner J.D. Evans agreed.

Anderson then suggested that a detailed discussion during a work session is needed.

Commissioner Jack Best suggested the session be held July 21 and that Anderson and Gray look at options prior to that time.

"I think Andy is right that we need to talk about this after the budget," Best said.

County Manager Lee Smith reminded commissioners that their July meeting schedule is often affected by the holidays and other meetings. Sometimes there is only one July meeting, he said.

As such it might not fall on July 21.

Anderson also asked Best, who is a member of the MPO, to help with the process as well.

The public has been leery of the MPO and corridor protection viewing both as back-door approaches to zoning.

However, county and city officials argue they have an obligation to let people know a proposed corridor could run through their property. People, they said, need to know that before they purchase property.