06/03/12 — Mobile home park's access back on commissioners' agenda

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Mobile home park's access back on commissioners' agenda

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 3, 2012 1:50 AM

Plans for a 32-lot mobile home park on N.C. 55 east of Mount Olive must include a left turn lane before the state Department of Transportation will approve a driveway permit for the project -- a condition that Wayne County Commissioners Jack Best and Sandra McCullen insisted at least be considered before signing off on the project.

That insistence put them at odds with fellow commissioner and former county Planning Board chairman Steve Keen who complained during the commissioners' May 15 session that not only was the board unduly questioning the DOT, but seemed to be a roadblock to development as well.

However, the underpinning for the disagreement -- that the state had already approved the driveway permit without the safety improvements -- turned out to be incorrect.

"I misspoke at the meeting," County Planner Connie Price said. "They have since found out they will have to put in a (left) turn lane. They have been told by DOT they will have to do that to get the permit."

Commissioners at the May 15 meeting had been asked to approve the final plat for the Robert Aviles Mobile Home Park, which is owned and developed by Francisco J. Compean-Hernandez. Approval had been recommended by the Wayne County Planning Board.

Price's comments at the meeting that the driveway permit had been approved prompted Best to question why a permit had been approved without requiring a turn lane for the mobile home park since N.C. 55 is a busy highway that has been the scene of numerous wrecks including several fatalities.

Best pushed to have the mobile home park removed from the agenda and the DOT contacted to take a second look at whether or not highway safety improvements were needed before the county approved the project. The board agreed.

Tuesday commissioners will be asked to approve the project contingent on the developer receiving a driveway permit. The meeting will start with an agenda briefing at 8 a.m. followed by the formal meeting at 9 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

Price said he had been unable to attend the Planning Board meeting where the mobile home park had been discussed and recommended.

"It was a mistake on my part," he said. "I thought they had (the permit), but they didn't."

Thinking that the permit had been approved, Keen said commissioners looked to the DOT for guidance and that he had no problem with the project if the DOT had approved a driveway permit without requiring a turn lane.

Best and Mrs. McCullen wanted the DOT to revisit the project arguing that safety was the issue, not delaying a project.

Best used the occasion to argue that the issue supported the board's decision to exercise final approval of plats instead of just allowing the Planning Board sign off on them.

Keen countered that commissioners lacked the Planning Board's more in-depth knowledge of the county's planning ordinances.

Price said this week that the developer's engineer will have to draw up plans for the turn lane.

"Once (DOT officials) get the design, the permit can be issued," Price said. "The developer has to put up a bond to cover the cost of building it. If the developer decides it costs too much, he may not want to proceed and the project dies."

Marcus Lee, DOT assistant district engineer, said was out of the office for several days and received a call from the county about the mobile home park. Upon returning to work, he found that the plan had been received, but had not yet been reviewed when it was first brought to commissioners.

A traffic count was not required since N.C. 55 is a primary highway, Lee said. However, after the call one was made that indicated a count of 3,500 vehicles daily -- just shy of the 4,000 vehicle threshold required for a turn lane.

However, based on the number of lots in the park and anticipated number of daily trips per lot, the number reached more than 3,900 -- close enough to require the left turn lane, he said.

The developer has to pay for the work and must provide a bond to cover the cost, Lee said. The bond is held for one year to ensure the work is paid for.

"We don't want to slow development, but at the same time, safety is our main issue," Lee said. "Normally, this is resolved before it gets to the county commissioners."