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Rebuttal of Chatham Coalition

By Barrett Powell
Posted Thursday, June 24, 2004

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There are those out there who would like you to think this election is about growth. They spout report after report that says residential growth does not pay for itself. All we have to do is drive 20 miles down the road to Cary to prove this is not always the case. But residential growth is what we have, and what Chatham has had for some time. As a part of the fast growing Triangle area, and an area that has consistently been designated as a "Best Place To Live" in America, it is unlikely this growth will slow any time soon.

It takes a home value of $225,000 for a home to pay for itself

Last year alone Chatham saw 400 to 600 new housing starts. The majority of these were homes built on acreage lots in rural undeveloped areas of the county. In fact, that is really what Chatham is known for; cheap land, and lots of it. This is the definition of sprawl, the old status quo of Chatham. More disturbing is the impact this type of development has had, and is having on our County.

According to folks I have spoken with in the county, it takes a home value of $225,000 for a home to pay for itself, including impact fees and property taxes. However the current average home price in Chatham is only around $165,000. This means the current and past residential development has been a net drain on the county budget. I asked the campaign manager of one of the other candidates if he
could point to just one thing the 400 to 600 houses built last year provided to the county and citizens. Neither one of us could think of one thing. They did not come with a school building site, no recreation facilities, and no commercial or industrial component, not even a common school bus stop, further creating a strain on our services. One of the reasons Sheriff Webster is in need of more law
enforcement resources is to cover the ever expanding and spread out homes throughout the county. Today we have about 100 homes every 4 or 5 miles, vs. 100 homes every 1/2-mile such as in the proposed Briar Chapel Development for instance.

The current years revenue is about $53M while the expenditures are over $55M. This led to a $2.5M shortfall that would have been passed along in the form of a $0.04 to $0.05 tax increase were it not for dipping into the reserve fund. And this is without the help from developments the Chatham Coalition has been so vehemently against, mainly Briar Chapel, Homestead, and Buck Mountain, each for different reasons they have come up with. So yes, the current residential development does NOT pay it’s way due to the $165,000 average home value. These communities the Chatham Coalition is so much against all have homes in excess of $300,000, which would go a long way towards offsetting the negative impact of lower cost housing.

So let's dispel the first myth, that residential development, such as the ones being proposed in Briar Chapel, Homestead, and Buck Mountain do not pay their way. While the studies Mr. Starkweather used do show residential development not paying it’s way, it does not show what happens when we use higher priced housing to help offset the average. In every case the negative impact is drastically
reduced or in the case of communities like Cary, completely eliminated and you actually get a positive impact. So when Mary Wallace says that sometimes residential development does not pay it's way, she's not waffling, she actually understands the problem much more than do Barnes and Cross, who have been misinformed.

Myth number 2, that Briar Chapel, Homestead, and Buck Mountain will cause incredible growth in demand for County services the County cannot handle, including increased school size. In this case, Bigger is Better...fewer bus stops and gas to pickup the same number of students than if they were sprinkled throughout the county, and fewer patrol cars to patrol the same number of houses. While it is true the build out of these developments will increase the number of students who attend the public school system, the number of students per household the Coalition would like you to think will happen just isn’t adding up to the trend Chatham County has seen in the past 4 years.

In the last 4 years, Chatham County has become one of the fastest growing counties in North Carolina, growing at an average rate of 12 percent, or about 400 to 600 new homes per year. The Chatham County School system grew by about 4 percent, or 1/3 the rate of residential growth. If we remove the Hispanic community from this number the growth is almost negligible. Based on the Coalition's numbers, we should have seen more than a 24 percent increase. In gated or high-end housing
developments such as The Governor's Club, the numbers of students per household attending public schools is even lower. So we would expect from Homestead little or no increase and Briar Chapel and Buck Mountain to be only a slight increase per household to the public school system.

Myth number 3; that we don't need large scale residential development to pay our way, promote jobs, grow commercial development. During the past 10 years, the per capita spending in Chatham County has dropped to between $8,000 and $9,000 yearly. This means that the average household in Chatham spends that amount within the county each year. The state average for a county is $17,000. So we
are almost half the state average. Why? Because in the past we have not promoted large scale, high end, residential development to attract the major commercial players such as Home Depot. Instead, our contractors and homeowners go across county lines to make these large ticket purchases. Sales tax should be one of the County's largest revenue generators. Instead we don't have the concentrated
rooftops required to attract these major players. But once Briar Chapel and Homestead are in the ground, we will probably get a Home Depot and other high ticket commercial retailers that will help the high end property tax offset the County's medium to low end housing even more, helping "existing" residential development to pay it’s way.

Myth number 4; you cannot stop Cary from annexing parts of Chatham County. The majority of Cary's annexation into Chatham County is voluntary. This means the landowner has requested Cary annex them so they can benefit from Cary's services, such as water and sewer. If we want to stop Cary, we need to provide similar services for our citizens. If you cannot, you deserve to loose them to Cary. Sticking you head in the sand and saying you refuse to provide those services because it "might" promote development is just inviting Cary to come.

Myth number 5; farmers need the Chatham Coalition's or anyone else's help to keep their farmland. If a farmer wants to keep his farm, he can do so today. However many farmers are faced with being last generation farmers. Their kids have moved away because they cannot afford to farm and could not find jobs here. So there is no one to pass the farm too. To those farmers an option is to try and sell their land for retirement or investment purposes to live on. Telling those farmers they have been designated as a rural farm zoned area and no development is allowed will put the burden of our desire to have rural character squarely on their shoulders. Just because we want to enjoy the rural character of the County does not give us the right to force anyone to suffer because of those selfish desires. The free market is at work here. If farmers want to farm and can make a living at it you will see more farmland survive, if not, they should be free to use their property to it’s best and highest use.

Myth number 6; you can get industrial and commercial development without first having the residential, infrastructure, and amenities provided by developments like Briar Chapel. At the F.A.C.T. Forum a few weeks ago, I asked the candidates that with the failed Global Transpark near Kinston, what made them think Chatham County was different, that we could attract industrial and commercial development without equal or greater residential development. Mr. Patrick Barnes summed up what he, Mr. Cross, and the Chatham Coalitions understand about County Business Development the best when he said, "I think the Global Transpark is a shining success".

Mr. Barnes, I hate to break it to you, but he Global Transpark has been a dismal failure from the start. In fact the state is over $80M and over 14 years in the red. But don't take my word for it, let's let the news media the Coalition likes to refer to so much describe just how "successful" it is...

"A boondoggle from the start. This series records what is possibly the largest government waste and failure in North Carolina state history, a failed cargo-airport project that has brought false hopes but little impact to Kinston and Eastern North Carolina."

"“What [corporations are] doing is they’ve already decided where to go’” Kinnaird said.

She also cited a study on incentives published by the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which said economic incentives were less important to businesses than education, a well-trained workforce, and residential and cultural amenities.

“That’s why they don’t go to the Global TransPark,” Kinnaird said, referring to the industrial center in Kinston that has been heavily subsidized by the state, yet has no major business occupants."

Mary Wallace knows what it takes. That's why she was instrumental in getting Central Carolina Community College to build in Chatham County. She knew the College would be one of the instrumental pieces to attract business to the area. As a Chatham County Commissioner, she will continue to work towards that goal and bring the other pieces of the puzzle together to attract business development.

Now, let me spend just a few minutes on the Chatham Coalition. Let's be clear about something here. This is NOT a Chatham County Coalition. This is a coalition of a relatively few people with similar socio-economic and political beliefs banding together to influence the election and even greater, the direction of our County. There is nothing wrong with this. But to say the Chatham Coalition represents the socio-economic, and political beliefs of the majority of Chatham County is not a true statement. They may influence the majority, but they do not represent them. Cases in point are the protest we have been subjected to over the years around the Pittsboro Courthouse by many of the people who are members of the Chatham Coalition. Once protesting against our Nations war on terror with signs containing vulgar and derogatory language aimed at our President and the other time protesting our majority elected County officials in the same way. I had to explain to my kids as we rounded the Courthouse that no, everyone in Chatham County did not feel that way. Both acts I am certain the majority of Chatham Citizens do not agree with.

Mr. Starkweather continues to reference the same studies that show residential development does not pay its way. Studies are only as good as the data used and the goal of the study. In this case, as I discussed with Mr. Hammond earlier, the Paper Industry paid for the studies. So it's findings need to be interpreted with this in mind. Additionally the home price figures used are not listed in Mr. Starkweather's data. A home of $100,000 is not going to pay as much as a home of say more than $300,000 that you might find in Briar Chapel, Homestead, and Buck Mountain. The whole argument from the Coalition is residential development does not pay it's way. Yet Cary seems to dispel this rumor. Mr. Starkweather states that new developments approved or on the board will increase the Eastern area by 5,000 to 7,000 units. What he fails to add is that this will take place over a number years, perhaps more than 10 years, but not overnight. Look at The Preserve, which is many years old, and nowhere near being built out.

The other thing Mr. Starkweather and the Chatham Coalition tries to do is use misinformation and scare tactics to convince the majority to vote their way. They use terms like "skyrocketing taxes" and "devastating our water resources and environment" as part of that scare tactic. He continues to state that evidence "on the ground" supports the Coalition’s theories. Yet "on the ground" evidence such as Cary does not support their position at all. Oh, by the way, if you care so much about water quality and the environment how about start by cleaning up and removing your signs from your Shakori Hills "Music for Chatham" event. I see quite a few of them still lying on the ground almost a month after
the event!

So who are we to believe? Let me offer some evidence of my own to consider. Was it the Chatham Coalition who stated they had not chosen their candidates and encouraged all the candidates to answer their questionnaire, all the while their Vice Chair was posting negative comments about Mary Wallace? Was it not the Coalition's President Mr. Starkweather who entertained us with his ten Commandments (how ironic) for how the Chatham Coalition would conduct it's campaign's, and then proceeded to break at least half of those in following postings, and continues to do so to this day? If you ask me, the Chatham Coalition has a credibility problem, and I would be highly suspect of any
misinformation they provide. I have spoken with a number of Chatham Coalition members and candidates who say they are now trying to distance themselves from the Coalition because they see it does not represent them or their constituents.

This election, unlike they would want you to think, has nothing to do with growth. It has everything to do with control. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the majority of Mary Wallace's supporters do not frequent this or any board. So this post really doesn't get read by folks that know her and support her. I am discouraged by them from even posting here. They refer to it as an exercise in futility. Mr. Starkweather frequently refers to me as Don Quixote and that I am preaching to myself. That may be so Mr. Starkweather, but the cards and letters and Chatham Coalition defections say otherwise.

This election is about control. It is about whether the few will govern the many, or whether the majority will once again as in the last election get out and have all their voices heard. It is important that you get out and vote, no matter whom you support.

Thank You,
Barrett Powell

And yes I am a Realtor, and yes I do support Mary Wallace.

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