County grants policy amendment to get extension off the ground
It turns out the cost to get Rea Road extended is around 86,000 gallons of sewer capacity. County commissioners amended their sewer policy during their Monday, March 7 meeting, agreeing to grant future sewer capacity to The Woods subdivision in exchange for right of way donations, needed to help build the Rea Road extension.
Two months ago, the local transportation authority set a deadline. The town of Weddington had 60 days to work with The Base Group and Union County on acquiring right of way for the extension. If the town succeeded, the $2.5 million would stay dedicated to Rea Road on the long range transportation plan, which the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization will vote on Wednesday, March 16. Without a guarantee for that right of way, the money would go back into the pot and the project would slip back into unfunded status.
“The challenge is we have an artificial deadline created by MUMPO,” Weddington Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Barry explained to county commissioners. “We said, give us 60 days, let’s see if we can get (everyone) to the table. We need (something) saying once the project is shovel ready, sewer will be ready.”
The Rea Road extension would be a two lane highway, stretching from the intersection of Rea and Providence roads to N.C. 84/Weddington Road near the 12 Mile Creek Road intersection. Barry came to the commissioners with letters of support from his own board at Weddington and the Monroe City Council. Weddington held a special meeting Monday afternoon, to pass the resolution. The vote was 3-1 in favor, with Robert Gilmartin in opposition.
The (extension) could add substantial industrial benefit to Union County,” Weddington town councilman Werner Thomisser said, speaking during the commission’s public comments section. He pointed out that around 80 percent of property tax comes from residential development in Union County, suggesting that the extension would, by providing access to the Monroe airport, help to generate more.
Some commissioners had a problem with amending the policy, saying that by allowing The Woods to jump in line, they would create an ‘open door’ to any developer who came knocking. Because The Woods would be a new residential development, granting sewer approval doesn’t fall within the county’s current sewer allocation policy.
“I’m not saying I’m against this, but a lack of planning on the part of one does not constitute an emergency on mine,” Commissioner Tracy Kuehler said.
When Infinity Partners and the Base Group acquired land several years ago in hopes of developing their proposed subdivision, part of the terms with the town included the developers paying for a portion of the Rea Road extension. The local transportation authority voted to allocate funding to make up the difference.
When the town rejected the developers’ plan for a wastewater treatment plant and the housing market started shrinking, the extension started looking like a thing of the past. Regardless of the situation, commissioners questioned amending a policy for what appeared to be granting special treatment to one developer.
“It’s about the bending or breaking of every policy we have,” Commissioner Kim Rogers said. “There are stoplights and speedlights (in our process), creating rules of the road.”
To solve the potential issue, the county legal staff created language in the motion that sets a new standard moving forward. Under the proposal, which is being drafted and will be brought back to the board for review, a developer must demonstrate they’re willing and able to “dedicate land or infrastructure to the public use, that would result in economic development.” That would mean any developer bringing in a request to move up the project list would have to demonstrate an ability to bring in new economic development. County commissioners however stopped short of defining what exactly economic development included.
“If we amend the policy specific to a project, we’re on a slippy slope,” Rogers said. “There’s nothing on this project that specifies the amount of (potential) commercial, there’s no guarantee here. I think (the road) should extend, but the devil’s in the details. I don’t want to be pressured to make a decision without doing my due diligence.”
Union County Public Works Director Ed Goscicki said the development would still have to submit the usual documents, including engineering plans and prove they met requirements, but otherwise he didn’t see any problems.
“We have no concerns,” Goscicki told the board.
Commissioners agreed to draft letters to both the town of Weddington and MUMPO, acknowledging that sewer capacity would be available for The Woods when construction was finished on the subdivision, which Sealy expects to build out to 260 homes. The actual policy amendments will be drafted by staff and brought back at a future county commission meeting.