Waynesville City Council considers traffic impacts from developers

March 29 – Traffic took center stage in the public reaction to a flurry of building development in Waynesville, and the city planning council took notice of those concerns.

The planning board has proposed new criteria that require developers to assess whether a city street is able to handle the influx of cars – and if not, to make road improvements.

The threshold for a traffic impact analysis would apply to developments of 50 or more units, which is significantly lower than the state’s 315-unit threshold.

“We wanted to lower the threshold to make sure we were asking developers to help us improve roads based on their impacts on our road network, especially in hillier areas or smaller neighborhoods,” said Elizabeth Teague, director Waynesville Developmental Services.

The traffic impact policy, however, has been sent back to the drawing board by the aldermen of Waynesville, who have the final say on its implementation.

During a presentation of the proposed policy at a town council meeting last week, Alderman Anthony Sutton was the first to raise concerns. He wondered if it would put too much of a burden on the developers as written.

“So how much extra cost would that be for a developer?” Suton asked.

The cost of a traffic impact analysis can range from $4,000 to $10,000, plus the cost of road improvements deemed necessary, such as an additional turning lane at the entrance to the development, for example.

Sutton said the extra cost might not be feasible for a developer.

The traffic impact policy is one of many new criteria the planning board is considering following lessons learned from recurring clashes between neighbors and large-scale developers in recent times.

“Ordinance gets more complicated and will be a cost to developers,” Teague said.

Sutton also said the policy was unclear on the level of road improvements a developer might be required to put in place.

“There’s a lot of ambiguity in this order. I don’t think the ambiguity is fair to developers,” said Sutton, who works for development company Biltmore Farms. “If we’re going to hold developers accountable, we need to be clear about what we’re holding them accountable for, other than just ‘Do this or do that’.”

Teague said there would be a “clear link” between the additional traffic influx of a development and the road improvements required. The policy isn’t just a backdoor attempt to get developers to pay for road improvements the city wants to see anyway, she said.

“That’s how I read this,” Sutton said. “There is a certain vagueness there.

Alderman Chuck Dickson asked if Sutton believed there was merit in such a policy.

“Anthony, do you agree that we have to do something?” Dickson said.

“Absolutely, there must be something,” he replied.

The city council ultimately decided to send the proposed policy back to the planning board for refinement.

Some of the issues to be resolved include: whether development along a major thoroughfare such as Russ Avenue should meet the same standards as development on narrow city streets, the proximity of development where roadway improvements should take place and the degree of road improvements that may be required.

A 115-unit housing development off Sunnyside Road – an extremely narrow road riddled with blind curves and blind hills and an almost complete lack of shoulders – emerged as a poster child last fall for the new analysis impact on traffic.

The planning council sided with neighbors who feared the extra traffic would create a dangerous environment along an already dangerous road, but for lack of a policy of its own its hands were tied.

“We tried to work with the developer to make specific improvements to the route. But the level of development did not meet the threshold for DOT to require a traffic impact analysis,” Teague said.

The new policy, if approved, would only apply to future developments and would not apply retroactively to Sunnyside.

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