Clayton News-Star

After 10 years, Riverwood roads still unfinished

Dirt blends with an unfinished street at a stop sign on Charleston Drive in Riverwood Athletic Club in Clayton.
Dirt blends with an unfinished street at a stop sign on Charleston Drive in Riverwood Athletic Club in Clayton. ndunn@newsobserver.com

In Clayton’s Riverwood Athletic Club, residents have ridden on unfinished streets for more than a decade.

By now, most know the bad spots by heart: The pothole where the little boy crashed his bike. The cracked pavement that popped Alexis Meier’s tire. The two inches of exposed curb leading into some driveways.

They’ve all heard, or told, the stories.

Why it has taken so long to finish the streets is its own story, one shaped by an old standard, the recession and a flexible schedule for the subdivision’s developer, Fred Smith.

It started in the spring of 1999, when the Town of Clayton approved the sprawling neighborhood on the north side of town. In addition to OK’ing narrower streets aimed at reducing runoff into the Neuse River, the town allowed Smith to partially pave the streets in Riverwood. Through a bond, Smith guaranteed the town he’d finish paving when each section of the subdivision was built out.

Before the recession, the town routinely allowed the so-called “split lift” surfacing of new streets. The idea was to prevent construction traffic from damaging finished streets.

A developer would apply a one-inch layer of asphalt that would remain in place until the specific section of a neighborhood was done. Then, the final layer would go down.

Because developers were knocking out homes faster then, many streets got the final layer within a year or two. And for a couple of the first streets in Riverwood, that’s how it worked.

But progress slowed in the mid- to late 2000s, when the recession set in. Smith said builder after builder packed up and left the neighborhood.

“That left me with uncompleted houses and what could have been a disaster,” he said.

The money Smith earns from developing and selling lots – the same cash he typically uses for street paving – wasn’t coming in like it used to. And with planned houses partially built or not even started, Smith wasn’t obligated to finish the streets.

Smith could have defaulted, and the town could have claimed his bond to put down the final layer of asphalt. And that’s what happened in other Clayton subdivisions after developers walked away. The town used a bond to pave streets in Summerlyn in 2010 and reached into its own pockets to complete paving in Cobblestone in 2010, Glen Haven in 2013 and Mitchener Hills, also in 2010.

Flexible schedule

Meanwhile, in Riverwood, residents were getting fed up with the deteriorating streets that weren’t finished. Clusters of neighbors demanded Smith finish the streets and appealed to the Clayton Town Council to pressure the developer.

Hearing that, and hoping to avoid having to bail out another developer, the town tried to work out a deal with Smith. Smith said Town Manager Steve Biggs approached him in 2010 about developing a schedule that would allow him to phase in the final paving over several years.

Smith said he was reluctant to commit to a schedule. “I said, ‘Steve, I don’t have any money; I can’t pave these roads,’” Smith said. “I said, ‘As money becomes available, I will pave these roads, but I can’t give you a schedule to pave these roads. I can’t make a promise I can’t keep.’”

Smith said Biggs told him the schedule was for “internal purposes” and wouldn’t be released publicly so as to create expectations. With that, Smith said, he agreed to creating a time line.

The schedule, being a public record of the town, has since been made public after requests from Riverwood residents and the media.

Biggs said the Town Council was adamant about creating a schedule to see that the work got done. He said the town had no intention of publicizing the schedule, but he reiterated that it was a public record.

The schedule isn’t a formal contract as to when the work will get done. Rather, it includes optimistic and pessimistic dates that Smith can follow for each remaining street.

The agreement also says, “All dates approximate: subject to revision based on resources and economic factors.” And over time, dates have changed, and the town has allowed Smith to trade out certain sections for others. With each trade, though, Biggs said a larger section of the neighborhood has been paved.

Biggs said while he agrees it’s taken too long for the streets to get done, the schedule ensured the town wouldn’t have to spend taxpayer money.

“One developer sat at the table and stated they would work to complete what was their responsibility, and each of the others expected the town to bail them out,” the town manager said in defense of Smith.

Hundreds sign petition

Riverwood resident Chris Edge and more than 200 others say the paving schedule has allowed Smith to neglect their streets for too long.

Noting several of Smith’s large expenditures outside of Riverwood, Edge questioned whether Smith really lacked the money to finish the paving.

Since 2010, when Smith and the town agreed to the paving schedule, Smith and his companies have purchased golf courses, land and even a paving company, Edge said. He’s also finished other sections of Riverwood – newer phases that do have finished streets, he added.

Appearing before the Town Council earlier this month, Edge presented a petition signed by more than 200 residents. It called on the Town Council to do everything in its power to require final paving by Aug. 30, 2015. That can include, Edge said, claiming the bond Smith posted when he partially paved the streets.

“Ten years has been too long,” Edge said. “We deserve better as citizens.”

Responding to Edge’s comments, Smith said he pays for golf courses differently than he does streets. While he’s gotten loans to finance some of his other spending in recent years, he’s typically used the money he gets from developing and selling lots to pave streets.

“The argument that Fred Smith is not using every dollar he can to improve those streets is a false assumption,” Smith said.

Edge said there’s no false assumption.

“The facts are that Mr. Smith has had the personal wealth and the ability to access capital over the past five years for numerous business transactions and endeavors,” Edge said. “It is astonishing to me that he continues to insult the intelligence of town officials by avoiding his obligations and making such representations.”

Repair dispute

While he hasn’t met neighbors’ expectations, Smith has made progress on the paving schedule. Of the nearly 30 streets in the neighborhood, portions of about half still require final paving.

According to the paving schedule with the town, Smith should complete the Deer Valley section of Riverwood by the end of this year. That’s where Edge lives and where most of the unfinished streets are.

And Smith said he’s ready to pave. He was planning to start the project this spring.

However, a dispute with the town over some street fixes is holding things up.

Because the first layer of pavement went down nearly a decade ago, the unfinished streets now have age-related structural damage that needs to be repaired. The town, which will eventually take over streets in Riverwood, won’t allow paving until those repairs are made.

Both parties have yet to agree on terms of those improvements. Smith hired an engineer who said only a portion of the streets need full-depth patching, where crews dig out existing asphalt and the base below it, then rebuild that section of street. But in a letter to Smith on June 5, Biggs said the engineer’s analysis didn’t have enough data to determine how much full-depth patching was needed.

Clayton is paying $7,000 for its own engineering analysis in the Deer Valley section of Riverwood. If the town’s engineer agrees with Smith’s, the town will allow him to continue paving. However, if the town’s engineer recommends more improvements, Clayton will ask Smith to perform those, Biggs said in his letter.

Smith said the town is requiring more from him than it has for other paving projects. He said the Deer Valley section will cost him about $500,000 to pave, and he suspects the town’s engineer will recommend improvements that will double the cost.

No work will take place until the sides resolve their dispute. And the streets will continue to be cracked, broken and unfinished.

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

Unfinished roads

Of the nearly 30 roads in Clayton’s Riverwood Atheltic Club subdivision, portions of about half are unfinished. A schedule developed with the Town of Clayton in 2010 includes optimistic and pessimistic dates for when the remaining streets will receive a final coat of asphalt. The subdivision’s developer, Fred Smith, is currently on the pessimistic schedule.

Roads scheduled to be completed in 2015 include:

▪  Charleston Drive, Gehrig Lane, Gibson Lane, Mantle Drive, Mattinglyn Lane and York Lane.

Roads scheduled to be completed in 2016 include:

▪  Buchanan Lane, Winslow Lane and Woodson Drive.

Roads not scheduled and currently planned or under construction:

▪  Pearson Place, Payton Drive, Faldo Ridge and Boswell Lane.

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