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Resident’s objections to Sam’s Club overruled for ‘lack of evidence.’
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — David Bissette wrote out on paper his objections to a Sam’s Club planned for Caveness Farms Avenue to present at Tuesday night’s Planning Board public hearing.
He left several places in his comments for a pause to change subjects. At each place, Town Attorney Toby Hampson interrupted to tell planning board and town board members to disregard his sentiment, leading the proceedings to have a trial-court feel.
Bissette’s criticism was that big box retailers are incongruous with the Community Plan’s call for less obtrusive structures, more entrepreneurial development. He added that increased traffic, funneled along Ligon Mill Road to on South Main Street, will lead to more traffic jams and wrecks.
But none of that can be considered evidence in a quasi-judicial public hearing, Hampson said.
One interruption came when Bissette cited the Wake Forest Police Department’s publicly available wreck reports for South Main Street, noting there were “15 accidents between Rogers Road and Capital Boulevard in June.”
“Sir do you have any of those reports with you?” Hampson asked.
“I do not. I can get that to anybody who requests that,” Bissette responded.
Turning to the board members, Hampson said, “You can’t consider that.”
As Bissette continued on that track, he was again interrupted.
“Sir, do you have any background in traffic engineering?” he was asked.
“No, other than I am a commuter in town,” came the answer.
“I’m going to instruct the board not to consider any evidence … as to the impact of this on traffic,” Hampson stated.
These kinds of interruptions are germane to planning board meetings because the special-use permit request generates a quasi-judicial hearing. Those hearings are governed by state law and town commissioners and planning board members aren’t allowed to make their decisions on anything other than findings of fact, from evidence presented by qualified individuals.
Since Bissette didn’t have the printouts of the police department’s traffic accident figures, the figures themselves are considered suspect and his testimony hearsay.
The boards could have asked for the public hearing to be left open, to seek out from Wake Forest police if those accident figures were true, but they didn’t.
And once the public hearing is closed, new evidence can’t be introduced.
More shops were planned
Planning Board members voted unanimously to recommend approval of the Sam’s Club planned for 13 acres between Caveness Farms and the roundabout adjacent to Red Robin restaurant.
Though the discount store is a big box development, it has a smaller retail footprint than what was originally planned for that site, planners noted. A shopping center approved in 2004 called for more than 200,000 square feet of retail space; the Sam’s Club is 139,000 square feet.
Replacing part of the shopping center plan with the Sam’s Club therefore only required modifying the original permit, not engaging a new process.
Major traffic improvements will need to be made for that much new retail space, however, including a third lane on both northbound and southbound Capital Boulevard between Dr. Calvin Jones Highway and South Main Street.
The developer will also build synchronized traffic lights and limited turns at Caveness Farms Avenue and the other shopping center entrance that leads to the roundabout, among other improvements.
Traffic engineer Rynal Stephenson said that lights will likely improve the traffic flow, even with the additional vehicles.
Town Commissioner Zachary Donahue expressed skepticism that there wouldn’t be jams on Capital Boulevard during rush hour.
“The additional improvements are going to more than mitigate additional traffic,” said Stephenson.
Commissioners to vote
The planning board also recommended approval, without comment, of a 3.8-acre rezoning to add a new phase to Bowling Green subdivision at Wait Avenue and Bowling Forest Drive. Eighteen single-family lots would make up Phase 4 of the subdivision.
Though Wake Forest commissioners are present during the planning board’s public hearings for efficiency’s sake, the planning board makes its recommendation that same night and then the town commissioners take their vote during their regularly scheduled meeting.
Commissioners will likely vote on the Sam’s Club plan and the Bowling Green rezoning at their July 15 meeting.