SILER CITY — The Siler City board of commissioners approved three resolutions in a special hearing Monday to close and reroute a series of roads abutting the Mountaire Farms facility — almost three years after the national poultry processor first requested permission to overhaul the downtown artery.
According to Mountaire’s virtual rendering of the $6 million project it plans to fund, East Third Street’s current terminus at U.S. Hwy. 64 will close to regular traffic and shift about 510 feet west, replacing North Avenue. East Fifth Street and Johnson Avenue — minor roads running through the Mountaire complex — will also close to the public.
The project will introduce several upgrades compared to East Third Street’s current two-lane incarnation. A center turn lane will promote safer and more convenient access for trucks turning into Mountaire’s complex. Privacy fencing and landscaping will shield nearby homes and businesses from traffic. And sidewalks will encourage more pedestrian activity, driving potential customers toward Third Street businesses.
“We’re really glad with tonight’s result,” Mountaire President Phillip Plylar told the News + Record after Monday’s hearing. “We’ve appreciated the opportunities to speak to the public and it’s nice to have many in the community stand up and say nice things about us.”
Mountaire first submitted its petition to adjust East Third Street’s trajectory in October 2018, but the request was met with consternation by many who feared the road closure would prohibit customer access to small businesses between U.S. Hwy. 64 and downtown. In an earlier part of Monday’s hearing, held on August 2, 10 out of 11 members of the public spoke in opposition to the proposal. In contrast, 16 out of 17 commenters on Monday praised Mountaire for its commitment to safety and investment in the town.
“Mountaire has been an anchor that’s come into town and we’re sure that there will be lots of other industries that will come and follow them,” said Cecil Wilson, a pastor at True Community Church. “... And now the community will have a safer way of traveling and entering U.S. Hwy. 64.”
Butch Hudson, who owns Preferred Insurance on East Third Street, was opposed to the road project for much of the past three years, he said at the hearing. What changed his mind and others’ was Mountaire’s recent emphasis that East Third Street would not close to through traffic until its “alternative” had been completed.
“There was a lot of fussin’ and cussin’ and back and forth,” he said, “and I know I was instrumental in it because I would have been totally against a closure ... But the alternative has been great.”
The lone opposer at Monday’s hearing agreed the road rerouting might be good for the town, but argued that his business will be irreparably hurt.
“Just for the record, I have no issue with the road redirection,” said Bobby Steel, owner of What-A-Wash Laundromat. “I think the redirection will be good — that’s what they need, that’s what they want — I think it’ll be good. I just think the issues that apply to me, I thought we were addressing, but now it appears that we’re not.”
What-A-Wash sits beside Mountaire’s plant on East Third and currently has three road accesses. About 4,200 cars pass his storefront every day, Steel said. After East Third is re-routed, however, “two road frontages will be taken away” and cars will have to go out of their way to reach his location. For the potential loss in sales, Steel requested financial restitution from Mountaire, but the company has not committed to any such payment.
Lingering doubts about Mountaire’s reroute project were reflected on the board, too. Though resolutions to approve Mountaire’s request were adopted, the commissioners did not vote unanimously. Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Bray voted against each count, citing concerns over the traffic impact on Raleigh St., a second major downtown access from U.S. Hwy. 64.
“I don’t want in the future for board members to look back at us and say, ‘Why did we not consider the fate of what’s going to happen to Raleigh Street as our city grows and progresses?’” she said.
She requested the board take no action until further investigation could be completed, but she was overruled by her peers.
While the board’s approval marks a major step toward Mountaire’s goal, much remains to be done before construction ensues.
“There’ still a fairly complex next series of steps,” Plylar said.
Before final design and construction can begin, the N.C. Dept. of Transportation must also approve Mountaire’s request, although NCDOT representatives previously told the News + Record the agency is likely to follow the board of commissioners’ lead “so long as required traffic improvements are made and they are up to current safety and design standards.”
“We would be working closely with the town and company/developer to ensure all the necessary steps were taken,” NCDOT Public Relations Officer Aaron Moody said.
That process will probably be lengthy. It may be a couple of years at least until construction has finished, Siler City Planning Director Jack Meadows told the News + Record.
“DOT acts next,” he said. “It’s in their court now and these things can take a while.”
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @dldolder.
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