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Developers to face lower costs for improving roads

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WENDELL — Developers looking to build on vacant land may benefit from an ordinance change officials made this week that effectively reduces how much developers pay toward some road improvements.

A majority of the Wendell Board of Commissioners Monday gave the OK to the changes, which impact large tracts of unimproved land along Wendell Boulevard, Wendell Falls Parkway, Marshburn Road and other roads.

The changes are to an ordinance that requires developers to make planned road upgrades along any portion of a road inside the land being improved ­— or pay the town to make the improvements. Landowners are also required to give up some land so a road can be built or widened.

The changes approved this week reduced the size of some planned road upgrades. In the case of Wendell Boulevard, developers will now pay to expand the road to three lanes, whereas the old rules would have required four lanes and a median.

Landowners still have to set aside a strip of land so that the road could be widened further in the future. The town, using a mix of taxpayer funds and state and federal grants, could opt to make those improvements when it sees fit. It could also use the developers’ money toward other transportation projects around town.

In a memo to commissioners, town staff said landowners claimed the old requirements “put too high a financial strain on prospective developers.” Developers have been more likely to build subdivisions in areas further away from the town core where required road improvements are cheaper.

Landowners, while generally in favor of the change, raised some concerns with commissioners.

Wendell landowner Carol R. Hinnant said the old requirements amounted to “shooting ourselves in the foot” because it “is impairing the economic development of the town.”

But she expressed concern that the town has broad latitude to spend the developer fees on any transportation project it wants. She also pointed out that most of the affected roads are up to a mile outside the town limits, where the town has planning jurisdiction, but where citizens can’t vote for members of the board.

Landowner Kurt Phelps said there was little clarity as to how much less developers would pay under the new rules.

In a split vote, commissioners John Boyette and Jon Lutz voted for the changes, and commissioners David Myrick and Ben Carroll voted in opposition. Commissioner Jason Joyner, who previously voiced support for the change, was absent, and Mayor Virginia Gray cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the ordinance change.

“This tonight is an improvement,” Gray said following the vote. “Is it perfect? No. It’s not. It’s never going to be. Is it going to make everyone happy? Certainly not. Can it be further amended? Sure.”

Gray also praised less controversial changes to the ordinance. Those changes diverted some planned roads away from floodplains and made it more likely that the town will conduct a traffic study prior to new development.

At its regular meeting Monday, the board also:

• Approved the 2020 General Bus Operations agreement with GoTriangle.

• Reappointed Lucius Jones to the Wake County Fire Commission.

• Modified the town’s facade grant program, allowing a single applicant to apply for up to $5,000 from the town, up from $1,000.

• Extended the deadline from Aug. 31 to Dec. 31 for applicant Sigurd Westerlund to submit a reimbursement request to the town for the facade grant program.

• Approved a facade grant program request from Martha Greer and William Parish for up to $2,650.

• Approved the closure of a portion of Main Street on Sept. 20 for Meet on Main.

• Approved the closure of downtown street on Sept. 21 for the Carolina Hemp Festival.

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