07/15/10 — Solution sought to subdivision road care

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Solution sought to subdivision road care

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 15, 2010 1:46 PM

Convincing legislators to force the state Department of Transportation to take on the maintenance of new subdivision streets might be the only simple way to address the county's problem with the crumbling system, say members of a county Planning Board committee studying the issue.

Lack of proper road maintenance in non-municipal subdivisions is a problem Wayne shares with many other counties, said county Planning Director Connie Price.

He said that after talking with numerous planners in other counties, one told him, "If you find an answer, let us know."

Committee members said they have studied the issue from all angles and that other solutions such as requiring the creation of homeowner's associations to deal with the problem or linking building permits to petitions for DOT to accept responsibility for a road's upkeep, are cumbersome and would either impede developers or adversely affect homeowners, they said this week.

About all the Planning Board could agree on at its meeting this week was leaving the committee in place to continue to seek public comment on the issue.

Contributing to the problem is a cash-strapped state highway department that doesn't want to add on more roads, committee members said.

Maintaining secondary roads is currently the state's responsibility -- and something the county wants no part of. Recently, state lawmakers have floated the idea of transferring that responsibility to the counties. Such a move could force the county to increase the property tax rate by as much as 11 cents, local officials have said.

In some cases, subdivision residents who are either unaware of, or who ignore restrictive covenants, provide DOT with ammunition for not accepting the streets, they said. For example, some people build elaborate mailboxes on the right of way, use driveway tiles that are too small or just simply fill in the ditch.

"We met three times and had a lot of discussion on this and we almost got to the point that we had to agree that there was not going to be any agreement," Price told the Planning Board at its Tuesday meeting. "That is about all we agreed on, that it is a a difficult decision.

"We have several options. What the (county) commissioners are doing is looking for some recommendation from the board. It may be your recommendation that there is no recommendation."

"We couldn't find a solution," said surveyor Bobby Rex Kornegay, who served on the committee. "The only solution is a homeowners association, but there are a lot of negatives about homeowners associations."

Besides, subdivisions already have restrictions, "But who reads them?" he said.

Committee member David Quick said there is nothing the county can realistically do to bring political pressure on the state to accept the streets.

"They do not have the money and they are going to find something wrong in every instances unless you have enough political pressure on someone higher than the local engineer," he said.

"What concerns me is people that pay $40,000 for a lot, build a nice house on it and they have been there eight years now and this process has been going on and on and on and their road is crumbling," he said. "They don't feel like it is their responsibility to come back and repave it and restore it when it is a public road used by fire departments and school buses and everybody and their brother coming through there. It is a public road.

"Sitting there listening to the people, you can't tie the developer to it forever. It just comes down to there is no way to bring enough pressure to bear on DOT to take it when they don't have enough money to take it."

Dallas Price of the Canterbury Subdivision agreed.

Price, who was at the meeting to seek a setback variance on his property, said the street in his subdivision is already crumbling.

Board member Chris Cox said the homeowners should not have to pay to maintain the streets because they are already paying taxes. If they do have to pay then the streets should be private, not public ones, he said.

Connie Price that there already is a subdivision improvement ordinance in place for new streets. The ordinance requires developers to sign an agreement that they will be responsible for getting the improvements in place.

"If they are not in place at the time the map is recorded we get a bond or letter of credit that will protect the buyer of the property to make sure they (improvements) get in place in a timely manner," Price said. "What happens is that once the street is in place, once we get the letter from DOT saying the street has been built to their standards, then we release any money back to the developer that we are holding.

"The street is in place and they have met their obligations. What happens beyond that point is from then until the point that DOT will accept the street for state maintenance things happen. A mailbox is too close to the street. Driveway tiles are the wrong size. A headwall gets built that is too tall."

It is those kind of things that prevent the streets from being accepted by DOT once the number of houses along the street meet the state's requirement, he said.

A DOT inspector will see the mailboxes or wrong-size tiles and other problems and will want them corrected before the street is considered, Price said.

"They don't really care whether it is fixed or not," he said. "That is what they are going to use to keep the street from being accepted. What we are trying to find is a way to ensure that the developer, property owner, somebody stays on top of making sure those items don't get built and without placing a big financial burden on the developer that would basically prohibit him from wanting to do the project because it is cost prohibitive."

One of the suggestions ties permitting to petitioning the state to take over the streets.

Under that suggestion:

* Once a subdivision has a minimum of four occupied homes and an average of two occupied homes per tenth of a mile, no additional development permits will be released for lots on that street until the developer or related agent petitions DOT for acceptance into the state-maintained road network.

* Once the requirements of paragraph one are met, additional development permits will be released until 75 percent of the development permits for lots along the subject road have been released. Once this threshold has been met, no additional development permits will be released for lots on that street until the DOT district engineer has accepted the street into the state-maintenance network.

Quick said it did not appear that Johnston County was suffering the same problem as Wayne. Price said that Johnston County already had such a requirement in place.

Planning Board member and county Commissioner Steve Keen said he was concerned that such rules could hurt a potential homebuilder. He said that some people might want to buy the land today, but would not be ready to build for several years. If the developer reaches the threshold where no more permits are issued then that lot owner would not be able to build, he said.