Local Interest
2:32 am
Wed October 31, 2007

Military Cut-Off Road: Balancing Traffic and Development

Wilmington, NC –
For the past few weeks, drivers turning onto Military Cut-Off from Eastwood have occasionally been greeted by the Grim Reaper himself. Well, actually, just a guy advertising a nearby Halloween store. But those who've sat in Military Cut-Off's unending lines of cars could well describe the road as a living death. Just ask these folks getting ready to brave the traffic:

Well, it's horrible.
It's been a mess, and a total boondoggle.
We hate it! We're just ready for it to all be finished.

Military Cut-Off owns such a strong place in the irritated imagination of Wilmington drivers, it seems like it should almost be a slang term by now. You know, something along the lines of: "Oh man, that project my boss dumped on me is a total Military Cut-Off... I'll never get it finished!"

Okay, I couldn't resist that one.

If you're already too familiar with Military Cut-Off's jungle of orange barrels and blinding night construction lights, get ready for some more company. The new improved road will open pretty close to its traffic capacity and the area still has a fair amount of undeveloped, and underdeveloped, land.

"There exists just a real mix of zoning districts out there. There's mixed-user, there's community business, there's regional business, there's single family zoning. There's manufactured housing parks."

That's Kaye Graybeale, the city's new Development Services Head. She oversees both planning and traffic departments, and all the ways in which the two collide. Whatever zoning designation land around Military Cut-Off has now, Graybeale knows a lot of those owners will eventually be knocking on her door, requesting upgrades to higher density uses.

And we hope that as these parcels get built out, they're more master-planned for interconnectivity, for any kind of traffic improvements that can help flow throughout the area.
So the city will actually be encouraging some of the parcels that are currently single family zoned to look at maybe a different type of development?
Right

Here's where planning gets caught between a rock and a hard place, because those other types of development may well mean more cars.

Graybeale says her department can't turn down all the up-zoning requests it gets for over-capacity roads. Why not? Well, for one thing, 'over-capacity=' describes three-quarters of the city's major roads.

Rather than just taking a blanket approach to just denying any zoning proposal on these roads, staff's response was to come up with some criteria that allow consideration of proposals that may increase traffic on roads, yet there's some other public benefit. Projects that contribute to the economic development of the area, redevelopment of the area. That could provide more open space and amenities that were very important to the community.

But there are signs that the City Council - which has to approve zoning requests - is getting leery of putting any more cars on Military Cut-Off, however nice the design.

Flash back to the Council's last meeting on September 17th: a developer wants to build 166 condos on a road that only feeds onto Military Cut-Off. Planning supported the proposal. Councilwoman Laura Padgett wasn't so sure.

Padgett: "I don't know that when I voted for these exceptions that I was expecting something of this size.." Graybeale: The stormwater run-off and drainage problems in the area are significant. And given that there'll be actually a net gain in wetlands, that we feel outweighs in some ways the fact that it is going to add more traffic in the area.

The project did pass that night 4-to-2 and now faces a final vote at next month's meeting. But whatever the Council decides in this case, more of these tough choices loom ahead.

As Graybeale settles into her new job at the intersection of planning and traffic, she says Wilmington has to balance its current road problems with the kind of city it wants to become.
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WHQR's interview with Development Services Head Kaye Graybeale

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View the Criteria to Support Rezonings on Overcapacity Roads

Video and supporting materials for the September 17th Wilmington City Council Meeting (scroll down for the meeting. The rezoning request is item #7)

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