Vaughan: Planning processes need some work

Published 10:29 am Friday, February 16, 2024

Following is a profile on one of the nine candidates seeking the Republican nomination for three seats on the Davie County Board of Commissioners.


The Candidate


William E. Vaughan




Eagles Landing Lane, Mocksville


Wife, Temsa


Doctorate of public administration, Liberty University; exeuctive certificate, Liberty, 2022; US Naval War College, strategy & policy, 2000; Army Management Staff College, 1997; master’s degree in civil engineering, South Carolina, 1982; bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Old Dominion, 1980.


Public Utilities Director, Statesville; Retired: Wythe County Va. county engineer; engineering director for US Army Garrison Ft. Lee; captain, CEC, US Navy

In the Community

• Boy Scouts of America, 50-plus year volunteer

• Volunteer musician, Farmington Community Center

Why did you decide to seek public office?

Vaughan: The brouhaha surrounding the Tri-West Center (certain irregularities surrounding its rezoning, including compliance with state statute, federal environmental regulations, and county planning processes) resulted in a deep-dive into county processes, policies, and procedures (especially the development of the 2019 Comprehensive Plan).

Discussions with long-time residents revealed a malignant despair concerning consideration of the citizen’s druthers, the despair is based on the belief, whether real or otherwise, that those in political power routinely predicated decisions to benefit “well-healed” parties with influence (especially local business connections). The common statement about the representation (which has been mostly geographically fixed for over a decade) was that “They always do what they want without listening to us so it’s useless to even comment at a public hearing.”

After meeting with several Commissioners and the County Manager, and outlining many of the issues in detail that I observed with both the political aspects of and actual administration of planning in the County, and after several editorials to the Enterprise and a quixotical presentation at a public hearing, I determined that the only remedy (if possible at all due to the long-standing geographic center of elected representation in the county) was for the current Board to be replaced with persons sans agenda.

The catalyst for candidacy occurred when numerous citizens, in reading my editorials and comments on social media, asked “Why don’t you run for office?” Considering this and based on over 40 years of related public service and educational background, I decided to do just that.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the County, and how do you intend to address those challenges?

Vaughan: Several challenges exist. Foremost among them is creating a balance between the citizen’s needs and structured, controlled, and effective growth. The County’s quick ratio is always of concern, and how to fund the coffers that provide the desired delivery of services without disparate impact (i.e., taxes) on the citizenry is a sophisticated balancing act. Monitoring the pulse of the citizenry shows that there is a mismatch between forced growth (and patronage of certain sectors if the current track record of the Board is an example) of industrial development contretemps to the prevalent desires of the citizenry for the county. As documented by the notes associated with the 2019 Comprehensive Plan workup, the industry category did not rank (as a specific category) as a need and was not prioritized in the Blue Ribbon panel report of May 2019.

Prevalent was the maintenance of the rural character of the county, quality of life, and housing. These priorities succinctly follow with prior planning documents. The question then becomes how to garner tax revenues versus succumbing to the perceived panacea of industry. The citizenry recognizes the need for commercial endeavors, which when properly applied, can provide tax revenues without the destructive impacts of activities classified as industrial. Light commercial activities along opportunity corridors provide needed services and comport with other needed land uses (i.e., housing and recreation).

The past actions of the Board in encumbering prime real estate that could otherwise be used for mixed-use communities indicate an ill-conceived perception that revenues and job opportunities from large industrial activities are best economically. When questioned if an in-depth economic analysis was performed to ascertain which courses of action provide the best economic benefit, the question was abjectly ignored (despite an analysis being provided based on applicable land uses and current tax rates which demonstrated the efficacy of mixed-use over industry proper) in deference to other supposedly “expert” opinion citing nothing more than a legacy desire for industry.

The lack of cogent, in-depth analysis taken in conjunction with the known desires of the citizenry requires redress. The addressing of the issue, as a matter of impact, points to amelioration of the included issue of housing. The National Association of Counties recognizes that housing is an important part of economic development. The proper balance of housing and mixed-use development has the potential to exceed over the long term any economic benefit presumably to be derived from industrial construction (i.e., the industry endeavors will come and go as economic winds blow and incentives expire, but well-planned communities and service corridors will persist).

So, the biggest challenges are intertwined – they must be divorced from the inordinate influence of a small group of individuals. Industrial needs can best be met by repurposing existing sites, not building new endeavors that are now not commercially viable (e.g., spec buildings, etc.). Housing, mixed-use commercial to provide quality-of-life services, and the repurposing of existing industrial sites have the best potential to address the needs of the citizenry while concurrently providing the revenue to support the quick ratio.

Is the County doing enough to manage industrial and residential growth? Please give reasons for your answer.

Vaughan: Industrial growth in the county is not being managed properly, oftentimes to the detriment of potential needed residential growth. Revitalization of outdated and vacant industrial properties should be the priority. Antiquated ideas about the benefits of industry endeavors have obscured the current economic facts (much to the detriment of many other documented needs of the citizenry).

Prime real estate, best used for quality-of-life purposes, has been consumed to accommodate large industrial activities that even before completion are no longer economically viable.

The actions of the current Board violate long-standing tenets (since 2010) related to industrial development (one such example is the Tri-West development). The Growth Enhancement Policy of 2010 states that: “Industrial development should not be located in areas that would diminish the desirability of existing and planned residential uses …” The poster child for this is the conflict created by the spot rezoning of the Tri-West site and the Eagles Landing subdivision (platted years before the Tri-West action and in conformance with plans and policies regarding subdivision corridors). This aberration of Tri-West was allowed to occur under the misguided justification of the regulatorily mandated conformity statement by the Board after a recommendation from the Planning Board based on the ill-formed Exhibit 23 in the 2019 Comprehensive Plan concerning industrial opportunity corridors. Examination of the exhibit reveals that contrary to policy the existing subdivision is designated as an industrial opportunity area. No evidence exists in the Piedmont Triad notes that this exhibit was briefed to the Board before the Comprehensive Plan adoption in December 2019. This fact therefore supports plausible allegations: incompetency within the Planning Department regarding the review process or undue influence over the final document amenable to certain interests. This one occurrence is indicative of mismanagement at all levels regarding industrial development: antiquated concepts trump the citizen’s concerns about housing. The Tri-West site, for example, was best placed (the “desirability” of “planned residential uses”) for a mixed-use development consisting of light commercial services and affordable housing for two of the most impacted demographics (young families and seniors). Prior to the current construction, the acreage and topography lent itself to a vibrant walking-type community with easy access to transportation corridors. The planning for this site (actually, the lack of it) violated policy about view sheds. This parcel affords a unique viewshed of Pilot Mountain – a developer’s dream in any other jurisdiction to be capitalized on.

Likewise, and in the same vein, industrial construction approval notwithstanding, the current construction was approved without berm screening requirements, the result being the current eyesore which accommodates developer profit (larger footprint) over good planning. If the Tri-West site had been properly developed, it would have been a shining example of what is possible for well-planned residential growth exportable to other areas recently rezoned for industrial use. This type of land use, concomitant with many pre-2019 Comprehensive Plan guidelines, should be a pole star for planning much-needed residential development. Davie County should be a “come home to the country” community free from detrimental industrial developments.

Other Issues

Vaughan: Any other issues notwithstanding, the undue influence of business interests would not have possibly arisen if the form of election in Davie County was not at-large. The at-large election construct has for a decade and a half created a de facto tyranny of the majority concerning the demographic of the elected Commissioners. The larger population centers overwhelm most of the county and repeatedly place their “neighbor” candidate on the Board. The form of election has created a suburbanite versus ruricolist dynamic in the county.

Had the county utilized a district-type election construct, or perhaps a hybrid (e.g., four districts and one at large for Commissioner), representation and development philosophy might have exhibited a more balanced result apart from the current business-heavy representation (i.e., farmers and other citizens might obtain a voice).

This in turn might have precluded the current emphasis of industry over the other citizen-voiced priorities. A district form of election has the potential to instill a more diverse face to the Board with one representative from each district. Concomitantly, Commissioners appointing a resident of their district to the Planning Board will provide a more representative demographic for homogeneous planning.

Another issue, one that has also negatively affected the current growth environment, concerns the necessity for the county to posture itself professionally in the 21st Century. A review of county staff discovers the absence of a county engineer. This key professional position would provide critical oversight of economic development, assure measured and correct growth of county infrastructure, and provide a necessary nexus with state and federal regulatory agencies. The county engineer position is a necessary check working symbiotically with  other departments such as Planning. Associated engineering services are currently contracted out – the county does not have a comparable in-house professional to interact with private engineering firms to  oversee architectural and engineering services or infrastructure operations and acquisition (e.g., public utilities).

The lack of this key staff position also means that the county does not have an advocate for the proper level of regulation of key topics such as stormwater management. The county, due to the lack of a stormwater ordinance (overseen by a professional engineer), has exposed itself to savvy developers not controlled by proper local regulations other than those imposed by state or federal authority; or, in some cases, the county could be subject to the dictates of state and federal authorities as allowed by law because of the absence of a local ordinance (i.e., the county has through non-regulation hindered its ability to address negative impacts of development by providing the means to address existing policy tenets).

Regarding recent parallel issues with planning as an example of the importance of the position, had a county engineer been involved in the review process the lack of berms at the Tri-West sight might have been identified. Also, an honest, professional assessment of infrastructure would be afforded to the Commissioners by a county engineer. Had this existed regarding the Tri-West sight, rezoning, and other decisions, might have been re-evaluated (e.g., existing sewer and plant capacities, water requirements waiting on a 12-in waterline extension, and the 3-year Duke Power lead time for adequate electrical services).

In short, a true evaluation of associated requirements may have served to obviate the influence of other interests concerning the efficacy of the site (as posited by the Planning Board) for immediate industrial development.