City Market is a triangular piece of property, with the Ghent neighborhood on one side, a mixed residential-commercial street on one side, and Country Club Road/First Street on the remaining side.
City Hall is giving that section of the city a lot of love and attention recently. Lawson Creek Park is right there and has benefited from a lot of improvements: a reconfigured and beautified entrance, a ball field, and more.
The city moved its Parks and Recreation offices to a building off Country Club Road, and is seeking funding to improve boat access there.
And it has worked with the state to reconfigure Country Club Road/First Street from four ugly, unsafe, ugly lanes of traffic, to two beautiful, safe, beautiful lanes of traffic with a center turn lane, bike lanes on both sides, and broad sidewalks stretching from Broad Street/Neuse Boulevard all the way to Pembroke Avenue.
Because that stretch of street is actually part of N.C. Highway 55, the state is paying for the improvements with a couple of small conditions: the city has to take care of moving street side utilities, for example. Oh, and the city can’t put the entrance to City Market on First Street.
Seems like a pretty small thing for the state to worry about, but the reasoning is sound: the entrance would be close to a blind curve and too close to the onramps and offramps at U.S. 70.
That means the entrance to City Market will have to be behind it, on Rhem Street (not to be confused with nearby Rhem Avenue).
Shouldn’t be a problem. The city gas station is there, but it is going to move it.
But if state Department of Transportation engineers take a close look at what the city has in mind, they’ll find that it’s a much worse option than a City Market entrance on First Street.
Rhem Street and the entrance to Lawson Creek Park form a four-way intersection with Country Club Road. There’s that same blind curve that DOT was worried about in one direction, and it’s even closer to the U.S. 70 offramps and onramps than a First Street entrance to City Market.
With traffic throttled from four lanes to two lanes after the street is reconfigured, traffic at that intersection is going to get very cosy. Many motorists will opt to reach City Market from the other direction, turning on to Second Street from Trent Boulevard.
Oh, but wait. Second Street is where Ghent Neighborhood residents have been complaining about heavy traffic (an average of 1,500 cars per day on a four-block, two-lane residential street). Full disclosure: I live off Second Street.
Second Street is an example an exasperated City Manager Mark Stephans sidesteps by pointing to all the things the city — no, he himself — has done for the Ghent neighborhood to address speeders on Spencer Avenue. (Ignoring complaints about speeders on Park Avenue.)
Referring to Second Street, Stephans said the city has moved its warehouse and will be moving its filling station, so that should be enough to satisfy the Ghent neighborhood. He says it as if they have gone to so much trouble, but they were doing it anyway.
What he’s not saying, and this is where “sneaky and underhanded” comes in, is that Second Street at Trent Boulevard is going to become a major access point to City Market.
Now let’s put this in perspective. If a private company were to propose putting a high-use business where the city plans to put City Market, say a hotel, the city planning department would be all over the developer to deal with traffic issues.
But the city is not a private company. It is free to ignore any issues its projects cause on surrounding properties.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
I’ve been wondering for some time why City Hall is so resistant to solving the high traffic problem on Second Street. When Alderman Sabrina Bengel suggested that Second Street be blocked at Trent Boulevard, city staff dug in its heels.
Whatever reasons city officials give against closing Second Street or reconfiguring it to reduce traffic, the real reason has been lurking in the dark for well over a year.
City Hall doesn’t want to decrease traffic from 1,500 cars a day. City Hall wants to increase traffic even further.
Three developers persuaded New Bern planning and zoning board members to hold off endorsing a proposed revised street ordinance, saying a Fire Department push for wider residential streets and bigger cul de sacs will hurt the environment and push up costs for new houses that could make affordable housing a thing of the past.
The board voted unanimously (with one absent and one vacancy) to table the decision and send the proposed ordinance back to staff for further discussion and research.
It was one of three option the board had: Approve it and forward it to the Board of Aldermen for further consideration, reject it, or table the discussion for the time being.
Tuesday’s agenda item was innocuously stated, “Consideration of a request by the City of New Bern to amend the City Land Use Ordinance Article XIV: Section 15-210 “Street classification.”
The proposed ordinance does a lot of things, from cleaning up wording to classifying streets. It was proposed requirements increasing the minimum width of residential streets from 24 feet wide, to 27 feet wide, and to increase the diameter of cul de sacs to 96 feet, that got three developers going during Tuesday’s meeting.
A photo provided by the New Bern Fire Department shows the problem it encounters on narrow residential streets: Not enough space for the equipment, and not enough room for residents to evacuate.
The Fire Department has been pushing for the wider residential streets out of safety concerns. Fire officials, who were not present at Tuesday’s meeting, say that 27 feet is the minimum width necessary to provide access to its bigger ladder trucks and for them to deploy their stabilizers, while still leaving room for residential evacuation if it is necessary.
Wider cul de sacs would make it easier for larger fire trucks to turn around. (Fun fact: cul de sac is French for “bottom of the sack,” though some translate it to mean, “ass of the sack.”)
Kenneth Kirkman, an attorney and Carolina Colours developer, said changes to city building rules over the past years have steadily driven up costs to develop new subdivisions, and these new changes would have unintended, undesirable consequences.
For example, the city will happily take over maintenance of a new subdivision’s streets — as long as those streets have curbs and gutters, which make streets last longer but greatly add to the cost of development. The city also requires one side of the street have a sidewalk.
Under the proposed rules, the minimum width for a street right of way, including sidewalk, would be 57 feet, an increase of 3 feet. The minimum diameter for a cul de sac would be 96 feet — 3 1/2 times the size of the room where the Board of Aldermen meets, he said.
Not only would this affect the cost of dedicating the street right of way and construction, it would also increase the percentage of water-impervious ground surface, increasingly the likelihood that expensive rainwater runoff systems would be necessary, he said. He said the added requirements could increase the cost of a lot at Carolina Colours by $27,000, and result in “cookie cutter subdivisions that are full of asphalt.”
It would also make it prohibitively expensive to develop more affordable subdivisions, he said.
“With very little discussion, things have been adopted without looking at the totality of what will occur,” Kirkman said. “I think it’s now overriding common sense.”
John Thomas, of John Thomas Engineering, which is developing a 253-lot subdivision near Carolina Colours, urged the planning and zoning board to “pull back and have more discussion.”