Siler City board recesses hearing on Mountaire’s road re-route project

Posted 8/4/21

SILER CITY — Siler City’s Board of Commissioners, after hearing a litany of concerns from impacted residents, voted unanimously on Monday night to recess a public hearing regarding Mountaire. The hearing will reconvene on Aug. 30.

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Siler City board recesses hearing on Mountaire’s road re-route project

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SILER CITY — Siler City’s Board of Commissioners, after hearing a litany of concerns from impacted residents, voted unanimously on Monday night to recess a public hearing regarding Mountaire Farms’ request to close and re-route parts of East Third Street and East Fifth Street, as well as the entirety of Johnson Avenue.

The hearing will reconvene on Aug. 30, giving the board and town staff more time to consider complaints and objections raised by residents at the public hearing, as well as give more residents the chance to share their thoughts on the proposed Mountaire-financed $6 million project.

If approved by the town — and eventually, the N.C. Dept. of Transportation — the project would re-route automobile traffic around the Mountaire poultry processing plant, allowing vehicles to turn onto North Avenue directly from U.S. Hwy. 64 and curve away from the Mountaire facility in what Mountaire representatives describe as a “free flow” traffic pattern “similar to the existing conditions today.”

This concept drawing shows how roads around Mountaire Farms, including Third Street, would be closed or re-routed / Courtesy Mountaire Farms

Mountaire representatives say the new plan would increase safety — both for residents driving on Third Street and for commercial trucks bringing in chickens for processing — by limiting the need for trucks to cross Third Street during the loading and unloading process.

Cathy Bassett, Mountaire’s director of communications and community relations, told commissioners during Monday’s presentation that the proposed change “would reduce those trucks from crossing Third Street an additional 464 times a day.”

But 10 of the 11 speakers who spoke during the 45-minute long public hearing say the changes serve Mountaire more than they help the city.

The hearing, which was held at Jordan-Matthews High School as part of the board’s regular meeting, drew a crowd of around 60 community members. Those who spoke against the road proposal cited a variety of different concerns. Several were worried the project would limit access to local businesses, while others complained about possible impacts on school-hour traffic, water quality during construction and rescue routes for emergency vehicles. Some were worried about re-routed truck traffic impacting Raleigh Street and downtown Siler City, while others expressed concerns about the poor driving habits of drivers traveling to load and unload at the $170 million, 255,000-square-foot Mountaire facility, which opened in 2019 and employs more than 1,500 workers.

Bobby Steel, who owns What-A-Wash Laundromat in Siler City, talked about the road project’s impact on his business.

“I currently have three road frontages: a road frontage on the rear, a road frontage on the right side and a road frontage in the front,” Steel said, referring to his laundry business. “I currently have entrances in the front and rear. I currently have access to around 4,200 potential customers every day. So with the redirection … I’ll have two road frontages taken away. I’ll no longer have a rear entrance … and I’ll have zero potential customers passing by my business.”

Krystal Desai, who owns a local Quick Way Mart Exxon gas station with her husband Mike Desai, noted similar concerns.

“When construction originally started that closed off Third Street for the better part of a year, it drastically hurt our business,” she said. “At that time we understood it was a temporary change and we looked forward to the positive impact for the city and its people.”

But now, she says, “The impact [of the Third Street closure] on my business would potentially be anywhere between 30 and 40 percent in revenue, which is huge for a small business owner like myself.”

Representatives from Mountaire Farms spoke before and after the public hearing period, addressing their own concerns for the safety and well-being of drivers who travel along Third Street and the company’s desire to listen to and find solutions for concerns expressed by the community and town staff. Bassett emphasized the company’s plan to avoid closing the current East Third Street before opening a new road. She said Mountaire wanted to be a “community parter” for Siler City.

Mountaire Farms President Phillip Plylar, who traveled to the meeting from the company’s corporate office in Delaware, said the company’s plant in Siler City had a bright future ­— but its internal “goal zero” objectives made the safety issue of its drivers criss-crossing Third Street a priority concern.

“We know that we have internal and external customers,” he said, speaking of the company’s relationship with the town of Siler City. Of the road proposal, he said: “We want to give you a good product, a good gateway into the city and to take care of the safety needs of the community.”

Ken Smith, the operations manager of Wilson Brothers Trucking company in Bear Creek, spoke in favor of the proposal. Mountaire contracts with Wilson Brothers to truck in live poultry to the Siler City plant. According to Smith, the company’s trucks cross Third Street approximately 300 times per day, while hauling around 80 daily loads.

“I’ve actually hauled into that complex myself,” Smith said. “I’m a CDL driver … It is hugely unsafe trying to get in and out, especially during the busy times of the day itself. I agree with Mountaire for a safety reason. If there’s nothing but safety, it needs to be redirected where our trucks, their trucks, all the contract trucks that are coming in and getting the dressed poultry out of there, can move around without worrying about hitting someone or somebody getting hit.”

Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Bray expressed concern that traffic on Raleigh Street would increase if passenger vehicles were re-routed.

“My concern is the traffic that’s going to be detoured from Third Street — because people won’t go there — to Raleigh Street,” Bray said. “And Raleigh Street is pretty much packed now, especially when school starts in the morning and in the afternoons.”

Consulting firm Ramey Kemp, hired by Mountaire to study traffic flow along the affected roadways, reported that the project’s impact on Raleigh Street would be “fairly negligible.”

Resident Beverly Goldston expressed concerns about “the conduct of the drivers of Mountaire,” saying the town made a mistake allowing the poultry processing plant to be built within city limits. Speaker Jimmie Pugh said not enough traffic studies had been done to fully understand the impact of the work, and Janet Ramirez said “reckless driving” by Mountaire employees and contracted drivers and the closing of a portion of Third Street would create traffic jams for residents traveling in the area.

They and other speakers also said they’d not been given adequate information about the project prior to the hearing.

After some questions for town staff and brief discussion, the board ultimately decided to continue the public hearing Aug. 30 in order to receive more input from community members and to allow Mountaire time to make any changes to the plan.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Plylar sought to assuage residents about their concerns.

“I would say that some of the concerns that I’ve heard tonight — we’ll do our best to address them,” he said. “To me, you are our customers, the community. And where we can work to address, we will. On Raleigh Street, I understand your concern there. We’re chicken people, we’re not traffic experts. So we went to the traffic experts — the Department of Transportation and a third party consultant that this group recommended. They said we didn’t need to widen the road, so we went with that. However, if we need to put in a turn lane, we can do that. If you guys want a cul-de-sac, we can do that.”

Bassett said after the meeting that the concerns expressed would be discussed by Mountaire, and that the company wanted to be “good neighbors” and work toward common ground throughout the project, which is expected to take several years to finish.

According to a timeline presented to the board, the Third Street project began in October 2018 when Mountaire submitted several street closure petitions to the town. As the project has moved through stages of ideation and development, Mountaire has acquired three properties adjacent to East Third Street and provided detailed visual renderings of the new road construction. Siler City officials have notified property owners who would be affected by the project, as well as publicly expressed the town’s right to retain water and sewer easements along East Third Street, East Fifth Street and Johnson Avenue.

In June, the board passed a formal resolution of intent to close each of the three streets, although the Third Street closure includes a shifting and re-routing.

If the board ultimately approves the project ­— which is now not likely until at least September — NCDOT will ultimately decide whether to proceed.

Future approval from NCDOT seems likely in the case of board approval. Aaron Moody, public relations officer with the Department, said NCDOT will likely support the plan “so long as required traffic improvements are made and they are up to current safety and design standards.”

The board will hear more public comments regarding the project during the Aug. 30 meeting. It will begin at Wren Memorial Library in Siler City and — if attendance exceeds space limitations — will continue at a larger venue, likely the auditorium at Jordan-Matthews.

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