Letter to the Editor: Boards need true master planning

Published 9:19 am Thursday, May 27, 2021

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To the editor:

The Davie County Planning Board has bowed to pressure from well-funded corporate interests to rezone 159 acres along US 158 adjacent to Farmington Road from residential R-20, etc. to General Industry I-2.

Much of the decision seems to have been focused on the 2019 Comprehensive Plan future potential use of the corridor (see page 75 of the plan).

Residents’ desires to have the current zoning remain in place seem to have been given short shrift based on big businesses promises for industrial development. In fact, at the public hearing on May 18, developer interests admitted that this location has been coveted for nigh on 30 or more years. This may have been an applicable use concept for the location 30 years ago, but the demographics have changed. This area in the US-158 corridor is now more akin, by extension, to the same corridor in Clemmons and Bermuda Run.

The planning company hired by the big money interests has addressed the current potentialities, but only from an industrial development stance. In such they point out the salient facts: interstate access; nearby water and sewer availability (internal infrastructure is still required); size of the parcel; and county comprehensive recognition of the area for potential growth, etc. These same salient facts apply as equally to a continued residential/agricultural expansion as they do to industrial expansion.

So, what should the discriminator be?

An economic analysis. This 20,000-foot level analysis needs to be brought down to actual land use differences and potential build-out. A multi-use, small commercial and residential concept needs to be compared tête-à-tête with any potential industrial uses. The tax revenues from commercial storefronts, professional offices, senior housing, multi-family, and lower price point single family housing needs to be estimated and then compared against an overlay of any industrial footprint and its potential tax revenue stream. The former will be essentially a “forever” resource, the latter a potentially finite investment: a quick trip around the state will reveal hundreds of such sites lying fallow due to the uncertainties associated with economic fluctuations.

In not performing a more in-depth economic analysis of each potential use the planning board has erred. The county commissioners need to direct the planning board to rescind its action of May 18 and to defer the action for the aforementioned additional consideration. The long-term impacts are too great and this decision should have been made on a more detailed analysis of all possible land uses and not the what-if’s concerning just industrial development as promised by big money (in fact, the same investors could just as easily invest in a commercial/residential option which seems to have been dismissed, essentially, out-of-hand).

Regarding the Comprehensive Plan: the future expansion corridor, zoned residential and agricultural, less this action, is just as expandable for residential use as it is for industrial use (again, all salient facts for each use are equal); and, page 75 of the plan notwithstanding, the planning board has recently allowed a subdivision to be platted in this potential industrial area (with $6 million worth of housing now in place and $4 million more forthcoming at buildout) – this one action in and of itself implies that residential/agricultural use of the expansion area is a preferred course of development.

Regarding the Davie County Enhancement Strategy, this zoning action violates Policies 3.1, 3.6, and 4.6.

Regarding the public comments of May 18 and board member responses, one member stated that “we don’t need any more $300,000 houses in the county,” implying that affordable housing is needed. True concerning affordable housing; however, a planned commercial/residential community can provide affordable housing at potentially lower price points (senior town home, multi-family, smaller single family, etc.). This revealed a lack of knowledge of the dirty little fact concerning the cost of a new, single family house in the current market: on average, it’ll cost $298,432 to build a house (https://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/architects-and-engineers/build-a-house/).

One board member also stated, essentially, that subdivisions don’t need to be near an interstate. This is totally contrary to the fact that potential homebuyers want access to transportation corridors, especially those who commute to an employment market. As pointed out in my rebuttal at the May 18 hearing, a light commercial development accommodates professional store fronts and could keep such commuters at home. Real estate agents tout such access as a selling point (and in this case, the residential zoning in conjunction with excellent school ratings). Bottom line: the county finance experts have not been brought into the analysis of this action. Once the more detailed options analysis is done (i.e., an economic impact analysis), finance can forecast the bottom line impact to the County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report’s (CAFRs) elements, e.g., which option is of the most benefit to the county’s cash solvency, budget solvency, and service solvency in the long run?

One affected resident, well versed in commercial and industrial development, has observed that a McDonald’s has more employment potential than one of these industrial factories since modern industry is highly automated – they are not the employment panacea of the 1950s.

Failure to perform due diligence on the long-term financial impacts could very well mean that the wrong decision has been made.

And finally, concerning the process of public input, there appears to have been inconsistencies concerning the posting of proposed amendment site (along US-158) during the general letter notification period – a canvassing of area residents attests to this.

Given the above discussion, and the potential, long-term permanent impacts to the community of interest and the county at large, the county commissioners need to order a rescinding of the planning board action of May 18 concerning the property at PIN 5840-85-5939, stating that the appropriate decision should have been deferral for further consideration, and order a detailed economic analysis detailing the future impact to county budget be performed and that a final decision be made on that analysis. This is true master planning and is the level of detail required to assure that the best outcome is attained for all the residents of Davie County.

William E. Vaughan, PE