Commercial and industrial development east of Interstate 95 could be slowing, as Liberty County commissioners embark on traffic, public safety and land use studies for the area.
County commissioners gave the go-ahead for the studies — and also approved seeking money from developers to help alleviate traffic and other issues stemming from commercial and industrial building — at their September 6 meeting.
“There are a lot of development opportunities and challenges on the east end of our county, particularly in the area of the I-95 interchange,” county attorney Kelly Davis said in presenting the resolutions to commissioners. “Due to the impact of a lot of these industrial developments, primarily, substantial roadway improvements are going to be needed to accommodate the increased traffic, to provide for the public safety.”
The Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission will spearhead the study, which could take six months.
The commissioners’ actions also suspend review and approval of commercial and industrial development outside the immediate area, which includes Tradeport East and parcels adjacent to the park, east of I-95.
Pending county reviews and approvals, development within that area will be allowed to proceed. Beyond that, development will be suspended until the studies are completed. Single-family housing construction that occurs outside that development area can take place.
“Most of the impact the county is concerned with, in respect to sprawl, is mainly commercial and industrial uses,” Davis said. “Until that study is completed, we have contained the sprawl down Islands Highway but have allowed development within that development zone. That’s been determined not only based on our knowledge and assessment of proposed projects but we consulted with area stakeholders and land owners and gotten best idea we could have imminent development within that area.”
Davis said once a new land use plan is enacted, commissioners may impose additional conditions beyond the immediate area of I-95.
“We want to encourage responsible and sustainable development in the county,” Davis said. “Limiting the development area at this time will ensure that until such time as we have an appropriate study to determine future land use and what appropriate infrastructure improvements are needed.
“It takes a snapshot of what we expect ongoing in development to look like in the next six months, allows that to go through pending county reviews and approvals, but any property outside that area, any reviews are suspended,” Davis said.
Commissioners expressed their concern on the traffic now coming out of the developments near I-95, and how much more could be coming.
“Believe you me, we have been talking to our neighbors,” Chairman Donald Lovette said. “I don’t want grandma having to fight those big trucks trying to get to the IGA in Midway.”
The study, Chairman Lovette added, should help the county “address our growing pains we are having right now and allow us to better manage it.”
Davis said the LCPC likely will reach out to consultants, professionals, governing agencies and get public input, particularly from those residents east of I-95.
“Their intent is to get as many people involved to get as much as feedback,” Davis said. “I think they intend to cast a broad net to get as much input as they can.”
The county also intends to seek help from commercial and industrial developers to fund road and safety improvements.
“We know the impacts these developments are going to have on our transportation infrastructure,” Davis said. “To ensure traffic is appropriately managed and the impact of these developments is mitigated, just on the east side of 95, it is anticipated millions of dollars will be required to improve current transportation infrastructure. To fund those, we will need participation from the developers causing the impact.
“The goal is to work with the developers to pay their fair share for the impact they are causing. It can’t be denied they are the ones creating this need.”
Commissioners previously had been presented with using impact fee districts. Davis said there are other methods the county can use.
“But right now, the need is so urgent, we thought we needed to implement a mechanism to recapture some of those costs,” he said. Some developers may be building portions of the needed infrastructure, Davis pointed out, but most of the construction will have to be done by the county. The county could seek contributions from the developers at that point.
Davis said a development’s share of the cost can be determined through traffic and trip analysis, looking at the number trips each development generates.
“We can calculate their share of these infrastructure costs,” he said. “Our goal is to provide an immediate mechanism we can recapture some of these costs and ensure it is fair and reasonable.”
When a project comes up for rezoning, the county can enter into agreements with developers for their fair share of the costs, Davis said.
“It’s a tried-and-true mechanism,” he said. “Most experienced developers are familiar with them and accustomed to paying them, and expect to pay them.”
Commissioners also may take a similar approach to other areas of the county where growth has accelerated faster than expected.