07/19/09 — Access, property rights occupy board

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Access, property rights occupy board

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 19, 2009 2:00 AM

What started as a Planning Board review of the action points of the county's long-range comprehensive plan Tuesday night turned into a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the rights of property owners, safety versus the economics of subdivision access and zoning.

Chairman Chris Cox and member Steve Keen questioned the wisdom of a transportation action point that "through the subdivision review process, require that large subdivisions (whole or total or smaller sections) provide for (1) connections with adjoining residential areas and (2) have at least two points of access (for emergency services)."

First, they said, the plans needs to qualify the sizes referred to as "small" or "large."

"That would require an amendment to the subdivision ordinance," County Planner Connie Price said. "We would have to pick a number to define large then."

Keen, who is also a county commissioner, said a person should not be "handcuffed" from building a subdivision because of limited access to a road.

Price reminded board members that earlier in the meeting they had approved plans for a subdivision that had just 400 feet for access, but that was 4,000 feet deep.

Board member David Quick said he was concerned that a subdivision might start off small then grow much larger while access would still be constrained by limited road frontage creating problems for emergency vehicles and traffic flow.

That is why subdivisions have stubouts (for roads) to adjoining properties for future roads, Cox said.

"That is just a way to get around the rules," board member Mike Aycock said.

The Wayne County Firemen's Association has fought for 20 years for better access into subdivisions, he said.

"What's a landowner to do?" Cox said.

Buy land on either side to provide more room for access, Quick said. The subdivisions, he said, have "surrendered" their safety.

Cox responded that here are thousands of homes in subdivisions across the Carolinas.

Just because mistakes were made yesterday is no reason to continue to make them, Quick said.

"They are not mistakes," Cox said. "They are approved every day."

"That is my point," Quick said. "I think that at some point we ought to draw a line and say from here forward we want to correct this problem and bring in the EMTs, the fire people, sheriff and everybody else and let them tell us what the number is on providing the services that we are obligated to."

"Have we ever had a problem?" Cox said.

While Aycock said he could not recall any specific problems caused by limited access that it still was a problem.

"Even though you have one entrance, unless you have an accident right there at the intersection that would cause a problem," Cox said.

"That is when you are more likely to have such as that, when everybody is not looking and trying to turn in or turn out," Quick said. "If you are going to redraw the ordinance, I think that ought to be addressed."

Brad Wells agreed and used the approach of a tornado as an example of what could happen. Imagine, he said, hundreds of vehicles trying to leave a subdivision at one time and having just one way out.

It would be chaos, Quick said. He added that all it would take would be for one person backing out of a driveway to cause an accident and block the exit.

"You go out on Buck Swamp Road and look at all the development there and all of the driveway entrances onto that road and the hellacious safety hazard it has created," Quick said.

"We have fixed that, we are aware of that," Keen said. "We are still rural in the county and we have landowners who have so much property off the road, but don't have the access on the roads. They maybe have only 200 to 400 feet. But it is deep, 50 to 100 to 200 acres, but because of development on the highway, they are limited to just a little bit of space to access it so they are not going to be able to have two roads.

"My thoughts are to let them develop deep without handcuffing them," he said.

Aycock suggested that if there is only one entrance that it be made wide enough to handle the traffic. He said he understood the space limitations and that he, too, hated to handcuff a property owner.

"But I am looking at the safety part of it," he said.

Cox suggested that if a subdivision was to have 300 lots or more, that an 80-foot street be required for so many feet deep into the subdivision.

Price said the county needs to look at how other counties deal with the issue.

"There is no need to go out and try reinvent the wheel when somebody has already done it," he said. "See what has been successfully implemented in other places and what has not been. I can talk to other planning directors and ask them if they had do it over would they do it the same way again."

The issue of property rights resurfaced on the questions of creating greenways and trails.

For example, suppose a person has a 1,000 acres by a river and the county wants it, but the landowner is not interested Cox said.

"It is his land," he said.

"Then the trail would end at the property unless you go in and buy an easement," Price said.

Cox asked Price how the county would cross a person's property.

Price said he had not really given any thought to it, but that zoning could be an option.

Quick noted that the state's Mountains to the Sea Trail was being constructed on land that in many cases had been donated by people.

"It is commendable, but if they don't want it, I do not feel we should take the property owner's rights away by zoning," Cox said.

Putting conservation easements across private property is not right, he said.

Cox also had issues with a provision that said, "Identify areas in the county that would benefit from a special area plan. Rank them in order of priority, including which area appears most interested in preparing plan. This would include developing zoning proposals."

He questioned Price if that would be interpreted to allow the proposed U.S. 117 South corridor to be zoned.

Such zoning he said would be "arbitrary and capricious."

Quick reminded Cox that commissioners have the authority to zone without the Planning Board's recommendation. The authority to zone rests with commissioners, not the Planning Board.

Keen responded that a note with the action point shows it is "our (Planning Board's) responsibility to make recommendations."

In an issue relating to transportation, Wells suggested that wording needed to be more specific concerning quarterly updates from transportation committee meetings to the planning department.

It should spell out all of the committees including the Goldsboro Municipal Planning Organization (MPO), Rural Planning Organization (RPO) and the county Transportation Committee.

Quick noted that the Transportation Committee has no authority and is basically a group that meets over lunch to be updated about transportation issues.

The MPO chairman (Goldsboro Mayor Pro-Tem Chuck Allen) says he has no power either, Cox added.

Cox and Keen have been at odds with the MPO for several months over questions of jurisdiction, powers and communications.

On the point regarding the need for a county sewer master plan, Aycock said he would like to see a master water plan as well.

"That needs to be done, but you are going to step on a lot of toes," Cox said.

Quick said he did not want to see the county to develop a sewer system like it has allowed a water system of different boards to develop.