Sidewalk Requirement Divides Town Council Vote On New JCC Engineering Building

In a split vote, the Smithfield Town Council has approved a request from Johnston Community College to construct a new Engineering Building on campus.

JCC will build a new 46,365 square foot engineering building on the east end of their parking lot nearest East Market Street and in the wooded greenspace on their 100-acre College Road campus.  The two-story building will displace 35 parking stalls and require the removal of some mature pine trees.

During their July monthly meeting, Planning Director Stephens Wensman recommended the council require JCC construct a pedestrian sidewalk from the new building along College Road to the intersection of E. Market Street.  There will be pedestrian access from the new building to other existing campus buildings.

Wensman also recommended JCC add up to 92 additional parking spaces in the future if the need is demonstrated following the opening of the engineering building.  The decision to add those parking spaces after completion of the building will be up to the town planning department.

Representatives of the Timmons Group, Inc. who is designing the project for JCC, said the sidewalk requirement was not included in their original plans because of the cost.  They also expressed safety concerns about a sidewalk dead-ending at College Road and Market Street, a busy intersection prone to accidents, and without pedestrian crosswalks.

The applicant said the priority should be on upgrading Jaguar Drive with any additional money that may be left over from the building project. The street has failing pavement. The sidewalk they argued, would not be that beneficial to students or staff, and could create unwanted pedestrian safety concerns by creating access to College Road and Market Street.

Councilman Barbour agreed, saying the added sidewalk requirement would take valuable dollars away from students and other needs at JCC, like repairing Jaguar Drive.

Barbour made a motion to approve a special use permit for the construction of the engineering building without a sidewalk, but the motion failed for lack of a second.

Councilman Roger Wood then made a motion, seconded by Councilman David Stevens, to approve the permit with Wensman’s requirements of a sidewalk and additional parking.  The board voted 5-to-1 and approved the measure. Councilman Barbour cast the sole vote against the permit request due to the sidewalk mandate.