09/02/09 — Hearing eyes ordinance, veers off course to MPO

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Hearing eyes ordinance, veers off course to MPO

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 2, 2009 1:46 PM

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County Planning Board member David Quick, right, responds to questions by developer Willis Shaw (back to camera) during the board's Tuesday night hearing on proposed changes to the county's subdivision ordinance that would give commissioners final plat approval. Listening are board Chairman Chris Cox, left, and board member and Commissioner Steve Keen.

Tuesday night's Planning Board public hearing started out as billed -- a chance for the public to comment on proposed changes to the county's subdivision ordinance -- only to end as a referendum on highway corridor protection and the Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

The planning proposal that would give county commissioners final plat approval had no friends speak in its favor, and for the most part, those who spoke said they could not understand changing something that has worked so well for so long.

There also were concerns that adding commissioners to the mix would simply endanger development by adding unnecessary cost and time. Others were concerned that, as proposed, the change would leave developers with no one to appeal to should commissioners deny their subdivision plats.

Leaving the procedure as it is at least allows a developer to appeal a Planning Board decision to commissioners, they said.

About 30 minutes into the hearing, the topic veered off course when developer Willis Shaw complained that his efforts to develop a subdivision near U.S. 13 have suffered because of the MPO's proposed preferred routing of Interstate 795 across the property.

Planning Board Chairman Chris Cox expounded on Shaw's comments until board member Mike Aycock sought to steer the conversation back on course.

"I think we are getting away from the subject," Aycock said. "I think it is a public hearing on the changes to the ordinance, and I think we ought to go back to it."

Aycock's efforts were successful for a while, until Cox and Planning Board member Steve Keen, who is also a county commissioner, steered the conversation back to transportation issues and the board's conflict with the MPO following a final call for public comment.

As they did, some people in the audience asked questions about the MPO, its origins, its powers and duties. Several of the attendees had heard most of it before when they attended a spring meeting held at a local church during which state Department of Transportation officials and others had addressed the MPO questions.

Approximately 25 people attended last night's hearing, including Commissioner Sandra McCullen and her husband, Randy, neither of whom spoke. Planning Board members Brad Wells, Hattie Frederick and Jo Ann Summerlin were not at the hearing. No mention was made of why they were not in attendance.

For the most part, the seven who spoke questioned commissioners' motives for wanting to change what had been working so well for so long. Several posed follow-up questions after returning to their seats.

They also wanted to know what would change.

Cox asked County Planner Connie Price to compare the current procedure with the proposal before commissioners.

As it now stands, preliminary and final subdivision plats are submitted to the county's Planning Department staff, with approval up to the Planning Board, Price said. Under the proposed change, the Planning Board would make recommendations and final approval would rest with commissioners.

A preliminary plat is required for any subdivision that involves a new street or has more than 10 lots on a secondary road. As planning director, Price may approve minor plats consisting of five lots or less on a secondary road or three or less lots on a private easement.

The change would remove that power and require that all plats go to the Planning Board for a recommendation. Again, commissioners would have final say.

Some in the audience worried that would adversely affect families who divide property among their children or grandchildren.

Cox started the hearing by saying he would "breeze through" the some 40 changes in the ordinance that had commissioners "taking control."

However, county attorney Borden Parker pointed out that the proposal is not a wholesale change to the ordinance. The criteria and regulations for subdivisions are not changing, Parker said. The only thing changing is that commissioners would become the final authority.

Jim Herring asked Cox if commissioners had appointed a proposed committee to look at changes to the ordinance that created the Planning Board.

Cox said the committee would look at changing the procedures and bylaws and possibly the ordinance to accommodate for highway corridors and "once that happens we do not know what is going in."

He said he did not know who was on the committee.

Herring asked if Cox had been appointed.

"If I am, I am unaware of it," Cox said.

"If this is going through commissioners, do the commissioners have enough time to do all of this?" Herring said.

Planning Board member David Quick said the Planning Board would continue to do as it has in the past and make recommendations to commissioners and give its reasoning.

"County commissioners are the ones responsive to the people who elected them," Quick said. "We as a (planning) board appointed by county commissioners are responsible to them."

"Has the Planning Board done that bad a job then ... or what?" Herring said. "Outside looking in, it looks like radical changes in a short period of time."

Aycock responded, "County commissioners would have to answer that question."

Quick said Wayne County was one of the earlier counties to set up a planning board and had "given it a lot of power. Most other counties (planning boards) don't have that power. One person's (Quick's) opinion is that commissioners are trying to bring it in line with other counties."

Cox disagreed.

Cox said he had called surrounding counties and that Wayne is on par with them -- Duplin, Johnston, Sampson, Greene and Lenoir.

Steve L. Herring raised the question about reviews of denied projects.

Cox noted that Wells had first broached the idea of a provision in which a committee of commissioners and Planning Board members would convene to review requests approved by one board, but denied by the other.

Herring also argued that commissioners should provide an explanation for their decisions.

"That goes for either board," Cox said.

Former commissioner George Wolfe wanted to know if there would be any requirement for commissioners to "go out and look at sites."

Parker said there is no such requirement. However, he added there is no requirement that the Planning Board do so either.

Price said that he visits the sites and will continue to do so.

Wolfe said he prefers it the way it is now because he does not have to worry about "politics" in the decision.

Surveyor Bobby Rex Kornegay said he had been involved in some of the early committees after the county saw a need years ago for an ordinance to protect the general public.

"(Planning) is a good ordinance," he said.

He agreed with Cox's earlier comments that the Planning Board operates similarly to its counterparts in other counties.

Kornegay said he could understand that commissioners needed to see preliminary plats to know where the county is growing. However, he argued the final decision should be left up to the Planning Board to eliminate an additional step and associated costs.

Price said he did not foresee any additional costs.

Kornegay also questioned how driveway permits would be handled.

Cox returned to the MPO issue saying that the trend appeared to be giving the MPO "more input" for all transportation-related issues.

The trend, he said, is to take transportation issues away from the Planning Board and give them to the MPO.

Quick, a MPO member, responded there would be no change on driveways.

"We (MPO) have no authority on driveways or curb cutouts -- that is handled by the city and outside the city it is the Department of Transportation," he said.