By DAVID BORAKS
Davidson commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 in favor of removing barriers from the end of June Washam Road, creating a new permanent connection to the River Run Phase 5 development and Shearers Road in east Davidson. The board also unanimously passed a separate resolution calling on the town manager to press the N.C. Department of Transportation to improve the narrow farm road.
Commissioners approved the two resolutions after a nearly one-hour discussion in which neighbors debated the relative safety of keeping or removing the barrier.
At Tuesday’s Davidson Town Board meeting, the board also:
It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday night when the road might open. The board gave Town Manager Leamon Brice the go-ahead to ask River Run Phase 5’s developer to remove barriers. He said he would like the road to be open within a couple of weeks, to ensure that firefighters can get through. He said he’ll use Tuesday night’s vote to push for a meeting with the NC DOT.
Mr. Brice briefed the board on the history of the River Run Phase 5 development and the barrier, which goes back to decisions made by a previous board, in 2004. As part of River Run Phase 5, a bridge was built over the West Branch of the East Rocky River, connecting the new neighborhood with Shearers Road and the rest of River Run. Town officials did not immediately require the road to be opened, and asked the developer to keep a barrier where June Washam Road enters the new neighborhood.
The agreement gives the town no say over what kind of barrier is used, Mr. Brice said. In recent years, it has been a locked gate, which could be opened to allow emergency vehicles through. But the gate has been repeatedly vandalized and the lock cut open over the years, he said.
So a couple of weeks ago, the developer replaced the gate with concrete “Jersey barriers.” That has closed the road permanently to emergency traffic, and triggered Tuesday’s debate and vote, Mr. Brice said.
TRAFFIC SAFETY vs. FIRE SAFETY
“So that leaves us generally with two safety issues,” Mr. Brice said, “a fire safety issue and a traffic safety issue.”
Residents on the more rural June Washam side argued that opening the road would create a safety hazard for neighborhood drivers, children and horses and riders at the Davidson Equestrian Center.
“Have you seen difficulty of driving down the road with another car beside you? You can’t pass,” said Mickey Kesner of June Washam Road. “What about us with our kids out there? How’s everyone going to feel when one of our kids gets killed?”
Residents of River Run argued for opening the road, saying it would speed the arrival of fire and police in the event of an emergency on the east side of the neighborhood. Davidson contracts with Odell Volunteer Fire Department in Cabarrus County to help with fire coverage on the east side of town. Odell firefighters had been using June Washam Road to get to River Run, but the now blocked road lengthens response times to the area. And longer response times affect both safety and insurance rates, Mr. Brice said.
Said Mickey Pettus, president of the River Run Property Owners Association: “We’re asking for removal of the traffic impediment, the gate and barriers. The number one item of importance to our residents is safety and security.” He said neighborhood residents, especially those along Dembridge Drive near Shearers Road, “are at risk” if fire equipment is delayed.
One woman, who said she is building one of the first houses in River Run Phase 5, said she simply wanted access to her house from Davidson-Concord Road.
GRAHAM WANTS TO WAIT
Commissioner Rodney Graham cast the lone vote against the resolution, saying he was uncomfortable opening the road before the town is assured that the state will make improvements.
“We’ve gotta get this gate open, but I’m not convinced that tomorrow is the right time,” he said. “And I would really like to see us get promises and commitments and signatures from DOT. ”
Mr. Brice told commissioners the DOT has repeatedly said it doesn’t have the money for widening or straightening June Washam Road. He also said state DOT officials have told him they don’t favor opening the road, even though it’s part of a long-ago approved 121-unit subdivision.
Commissioner Laurie Venzon said she was voting to open the road immediately to give the town leverage. She said that appears to be the only way to get the DOT’s attention to act on improving the road. She said as long as the road is closed, the DOT is unlikely to consider upgrading it.
Town officials have little direct influence on the road conditions, or for that matter on traffic enforcement on June Washam Road. The old, narrow farm road is a state road, from Davidson-Concord Road north to the entrance to River Run Phase 5.
The whole area is actually outside the town limits, in what’s called the town’s “extra-territorial jurisdiction,” or ETJ. That’s an unincorporated area of the county over which Davidson has planning jurisdiction.
Download a copy of a draft resolution the board was given before Tuesday’s meeting. The board ultimately adopted two reworded resolutions as described above. This resolution includes background on the issue.
See the full agenda from Tuesday’s meeting, along with related documents.