For 10 minutes, it felt as if the Garner Planning Commission meeting was actually a cross examination of an expert witness in a courtroom.
And the jury was both the audience and the commission members.
Heads swiveled back and forth in the audience as the real-estate attorney for the Wake County school board and the attorney for the Town of Garner each argued why the school system should – or in Wake County’s case, should not – pay for road improvements at a site near the proposed Bryan Elementary School.
What was supposed to be a quiet discussion about a special use permit for the site, turned into a debate. And at one point, commission chair Jim Hunnicutt told town attorney Bill Anderson, “I think you’ve made your point.”
Town staff presented the proposal as usual to the commission members for the site. However, staff added two conditions, which they presented to the school staff only a few minutes prior to the meeting.
The conditions were basically to come up with the money to pay for road improvements to Bryan Road before allowing students to enter the school, and to put a stoplight at the intersection of White Oak Road and Hebron Church Road.
The improvements would cost about $60,000 for a portion of the road and between $200,000 and $300,000 for the other portion. The town is requiring the school system have the road improvements to one part of the road completed by the time the school opens up, and have the other work underway.
Bryan Road, from Ackerman Road to Clifford Road, is currently a gravel road. And a flood study needs to be done on a small part of the road.
The conditions didn’t go over well with the school system and their real-estate attorney, Kenneth Haywood. Haywood came out swinging and may have caught some commission members, who looked confused at first, off guard.
He told the commission approval of the special use permit is required by law as long as they meet the criteria under the town’s Unified Development Ordinance.
“This particular road is a secondary road. It is a state maintained road,” Haywood said. “It is not a town road. It is not a school road. It is a state road.”
Therefore it is the state’s responsibility to maintain, construct or pave the road according to state law, Haywood said.
“It is not the responsibility of the Wake County Board of Education or the Wake County Public School System to improve by paving this particular road from Ackerman down to Clifford Road or anywhere else,” he said.
Haywood requested the commission members move the special use permit forward and leave the conditions set forth by town staff up to elected officials to decide whether to continue them.
Haywood then called on the engineer, Joshua Reinke, who conducted the traffic impact analysis of the site and began to ask him questions as if he were on a witness stand.
He asked him about the intersection where the town is requiring the school system to install a traffic signal.
Haywood argued that because the intersection was already given the worst grade possible, the school system was not responsible for paying for a traffic signal there because any additional construction would give it the same grade.
“We would like to see if we can have a win-win for all of us,” he said.
After Haywood finished asking his questions and the engineer began to sit back down, it was Anderson’s turn to ask questions.
He argued if, regardless of what the traffic impact analysis says, the school site will add traffic to the intersection. He also argued with the small width of Bryan Road, saying it would pose a safety risk in case an emergency vehicle needed to get to the site while school was in session.
Fire trucks and buses wouldn’t be able to pass by each other on the road, he said.
Anderson continued to ask questions, one after another, until Hunnicutt cut him off.
Anderson also asked that commission pass the conditions off to the town council so the two parties could come to an agreement in due time.
“Everybody wants to see Vandora fixed,” Anderson said. “Everybody wants to see this elementary school built. We’re trying to make something work and we don’t want to delay it too much.”
Chad Simon, who lives on Ackerman Road, did not agree with the school system’s argument.
“If it is approved and they build it as is, it could be on a dirt road, which would probably be one of the only Wake County Schools on a dirt road,” Simon said. “That’s a slap in the eye to Garner to have to settle for something that is not up to the standards for everything else in the county.”
The Planning Commission ultimately voted five to one in favor of recommending approval of the special use permit with the conditions brought forth by the staff.
The town council will look at the proposal at a December meeting, which is not set.