Officials soften stand on proposed rest area

Published 10:36 pm Sunday, June 13, 2010

Staff Writer

Staff Writer
Beaufort County leaders appeared to soften their objections to a proposed rest area on U.S. Highway 17 after meeting with two N.C. Department of Transportation employees Thursday, but at least one leader said he hoped the state would “sweeten that pot” to make selling the property more attractive for the county.
The project also picked up the qualified support of the Cypress Landing Homeowners Association, whose president said the project will be good for the community.
“I’ll be honest with you, I like what I see,” said Jerry Langley, chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, after viewing photographs of a rest area similar to the one proposed for Beaufort County. “When it comes to rest areas, North Carolina is hard to beat.”
Commissioner Ed Booth agreed.
“I have used (rest areas) from Murphy to Manteo,” he said. “All of them are well-manned and well-kept. The bathrooms are always clean.”
Commissioner Stan Deatherage said his support for the site would depend on the price the state offers the county for the land.
The specter of a rest area on U.S. 17 about one mile south of Chocowinity had drawn concern from county leaders who initially feared that an unmanned rest area would attract drug dealers, prostitution and be the source of unsightly litter.
The head of DOT’s Rest Area Section told the commissioners that reports had misrepresented the project and fears about it are unfounded.
Jimmy Parrish, DOT’s Rest Area Section supervisor, told the commissioners that if they opposed the project and did not want to sell the land where the rest area is to be located, DOT would not pursue it.
“If you decide you don’t want to work with us for this, then in all probability, it won’t happen,” Parrish said.
The property, owned by the county, is adjacent to land intended to serve as an industrial park.
DOT’s proposal calls for a rest area to be built on about 20 acres of land on the east side of U.S. 17 just north of the Harding Road intersection and just south of the junction of U.S. 17 Business and U.S. 17
It will be similar in construction to a DOT rest area on U.S. Highway 64 in Dare County.
Commissioner Jay McRoy said he is familiar with the Dare County rest area because athletes from Chocowinity schools often stop there before returning home from games in Manteo.
“It is well lit,” he said. “You don’t feel uncomfortable stopping late at night.”
Parrish said the site was chosen in lieu of a site north of Washington because it would not require the removal of any homes or buildings.
Construction on the rest area would begin in September 2013 or October 2013, and it would take about 12 months to 18 months to complete. 
When completed, the site would be manned by a custodian at least 12 hours a day for seven months of the year and 10 hours a day for the rest of the year, Parrish said.
The rest area will bring four to six jobs to the county. It likely attract between 100,000 and 150,000 visitors each year, according to DOT.
Plans also call for the rest area to be well-illuminated at night to deter criminal activity, Parrish said.
Despite reassurances from Parrish, the Cypress Landing Homeowners Association continues to have concerns about criminal activity — particularly gangs — at the site, group President Ronald Buzzeo said in a letter to the county commissioners and in an interview with the Daily News after the meeting.
The group hopes DOT will reconsider its plans and agree to staff the site 24 hours a day, he said.
The original plans for the rest area called for a visitors center to be built as part of the project, but a lack of funding has stalled its construction, he said.
The proposed rest area will be designed to allow for the construction of a visitors center in the future, if funding becomes available, he said.
If the Beaufort County rest area is built, DOT will close a rest area, built in 1952, on U.S. 17 in Craven County, Parrish said.
Currently, there are 61 rest areas in North Carolina, including 10 with visitors centers and nine with welcome centers.