Letter to the editor: Zoning seems to work for a select few

Published 11:31 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

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To the editor:

You know, as I reread the newspaper article concerning the brouhaha with the Cana Road rezoning, some interesting thoughts come to mind.

From the Enterprise Record online of Nov. 22, 2022: Commissioner Richard Poindexter then talked about the importance of industrially zoned properties. “Everybody seems to know the critical importance of having all the industrial and commercial property that we can get in the county to offset the cost of residential property [emphasis added] that’s building in the county,” Poindexter said . . . The property in question has long been identified as a growth area, and an area for industry, Poindexter said. . . If the board isn’t going to follow the county’s written and well-researched plan [emphasis added] that economic developers recruiting business to Davie also use, then it doesn’t need to go to the trouble of forming them in the first place.”

This is an interesting quote since the same standard concerning a “well-researched plan” was not relevant (in fact, disregarded out-of-hand) vis-à-vis citizen’s concerns with the (now) Tri-West Business Park property zoning amendment. “Well-researched” should also include the citizen input used to develop the Comprehensive Plan. The way the “deep pockets” are getting away with this type of development is to have an “opportunity zone” map buried deep within the Comprehensive Plan (a long ways from the actual zoning at the front of the document, which is also published on the county website).

It’s the “in” that needs to be removed from the plan to help forestall this sort of rezoning (the ability to overwrite the primary zoning without impunity, a means to read a conformity statement into legal proceedings – scrutiny of the overlay shows that it is ill conceived, seemingly a last minute addition, viz. the designation of an existing, plated subdivision as an industrial opportunity zone.). In fact, a careful reading of an “opportunity zone,” what one is, would include the uses the citizenry actually prefers, not just the developers’ preference.

The economic development lobby interest seems to think that “residential property” is a losing investment, a bad thing. Maybe for them, but not the citizenry. Read the development of the Comprehensive Plan and the citizen input: industrial development does not even make the top 10, but affordable housing and mixed uses do (like medical storefronts, etc.). So, the elected representative is not truly representing the desires of the citizenry when focusing ambivalently (regarding housing) on industry. The debate outlined in the article succinctly shows where the real interests lay, the real representation, and who thinks they “know better” than the citizenry. In a detailed analysis, when zoning ordinance 2021-22 was “pushed through,” I gave an economic analysis that showed mixed-use and housing could indeed provide more long-term benefit (tax revenue) than commercial/industry (using current public tax records showing taxes paid and encumbered acreage for some representative businesses).

The mantra, the deflection, of the industrial development crowd is that industry pays the bill for schools (the oblique negative in the article concerning residential property). That’s an obfuscation – so do residential property taxes, personal property taxes, meals taxes, sales taxes, and lodging taxes (especially when the economic development incentives used to lure an industry routinely expire in 10 years and the industry leaves – look around the state for abandoned industrial sites).

For industrial development, you can expect to have a good portion of the employment base to taking their paycheck back to another locality, i.e., no tax revenue in the county of employment. The bottom line is this, something that is not done by the planning folks: what is the best use for a parcel when evaluated through an economic analysis lens of the long-term financial impacts? Best land use economic analysis in conjunction with citizen input should be pro forma before a rezoning is approved. The only analysis performed is focused on the industrial aspect (property tax and a few jobs that may stay local). Developers can make as much, and even more, from other types of development.

A myopic view of economic development is detrimental to the county. Economic development also includes residential and related light commercial development, not just industry. According to the National Association of Counties, when discussing housing: “In counties that are relatively more affordable, there is an opportunity to get ahead of the [economic] curve and to sustain a high quality of life and a low cost of living [emphasis added] that creates a comparative economic advantage for the community” (https://www.naco.org/articles/housing-part-county%E2%80%99s-economic-development-strategy). This is exactly what the citizen’s conveyed when the Comprehensive Plan was being developed, and since.

All the effort seems to be in one direction and for the benefit of a select few.

The “capital to deploy” stated in the article can also be used for things other than industry. This county is well positioned to maintain a quality of life, a “come home to the country” ambiance, which is exactly what the citizenry desires.

William Vaughan