Town: Issues of private property, policy on safety lighting still unanswered

by Will Bryant

CORNELIUS – Last week, the Peninsula Property Owners Association decided to withdraw its offer to contribute $60,000 toward the cost of installing pedestrian safety lights along Jetton Road.

But board members’ request to the Cornelius town board remains the same: We want pedestrian lighting, and we want it fast.

The association decided to pull the proposed donation because the board could no longer keep such a large financial offer withstanding at the end of the association’s fiscal year, according to President Jim Duke.

“Working with the town proved to be series of missteps and faints always leading to the same place … no definitive answer,” Duke wrote in a letter to the Herald Weekly.

According to an estimate prepared by Duke Energy and released last week by Town Manager Anthony Roberts, the project will cost $130,000, or $6,500 for each decorative pole and light.

Barraged earlier this year with emails from Peninsula residents, Cornelius commissioners explained the town’s longstanding policy of paying for electricity once Duke Energy installs streetlights on standard wooden polls, at no charge to the community requesting the lights.

But commissioners were hesitant to agree to split the much higher cost of decorative poles requested by the Peninsula association board. Commissioners also feared setting a precedent that would prompt other communities to ask for the costly lights as well.

Last week, Roberts said another concern has arisen because the Duke Energy plan calls for installing some of the proposed pedestrian safety lights on Jetton Road private property, Roberts said.

“Obviously, we are not going to use public money to put lights on private property” Roberts said. “That is the issue at hand.”

But Duke said the private-property issue is just another instance of the town board hesitating to spend money where people need it the most

“Every time we turn around there is someone else throwing out another reason why we shouldn’t do it,” Duke said. “On the Peninsula, every light we have is on private property.”

Even without the private-versus-public issue, town officials have said previously they are not ready to move forward because the town has never had a request for pedestrian safety lights and has no policy governing such a request.

The town’s only policy covers streetlights, which requires more light poles and higher illumination to meet the requirements of the N.C. Department of Transportation. Jetton Road is a state-maintained highway.

“We can’t rush this,” Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte said. “We’ve got to do our homework and get a pedestrian lighting policy in place.”

Tarte lived off Jetton Road for nearly 20 years, and he said he understands exactly where the Peninsula Property Owners Association is coming from. But he also understands that other communities have lighting issues.

“People need a safe place to walk,” Tarte said. “All of these communities are important, and we need to pay attention to them.”

The neighborhoods of Glenridge and Oakhurst also are interested in adding pedestrian lighting, Tarte said. “So we need to come up with a policy that is fair and equitable for everyone.”