Let’s not turn eastern Chatham into Cary

What follows is my testimony to Chatham County Commissioners during a public hearing this week on the draft Chatham-Cary land-use plan covering the eastern area of the county adjacent to where Cary has been involved in development annexations:

“Ironically, rural America has become viewed by a growing number of Americans as having a higher quality of life not because of what it has, but rather because of what it does not have.”

So stated Don A. Dillman, one of the nation’s foremost rural sociologists.

Most residents of this area and the vast majority of Chatham citizens do not want to see Cary bulldozing itself further into eastern Chatham.

The  land-use plans for this area will affect everyone in Chatham County, particularly our hard-pressed taxpayers, as well as future generations.

I have spoken on this issue before. Tonight, I have three general bottom-line concerns:

First and foremost, the elected officials of both Chatham and the Town of Cary should be guided primarily by the desires of the people who live in the affected area. Based on my direct observation and review of the joint meetings, I do not believe this has occurred since our new Chatham board majority took over these negotiations.  Residents in the affected area should be able to determine the destiny of their community.

 Second, residents of this area have clearly expressed their wish to maintain our rural character. They oppose suburban sprawl with its pollution, traffic jams, noise, and visual clutter.   They have expressly stated they do not want to become “Cary-fied” by having to rely on Cary’s urban and suburban design standards.

Chatham residents in this area want Chatham design standards in place before the plan is approved, not in 2013.

Finally, residents of this area want a direct say concerning development proposals in their community.  They want to be able to have a voice in whether “voluntary satellite annexation” or what I refer to as “developer annexation” of nearby land is allowed.  No matter how detailed this plan is, it is not legally enforceable if a subsequent Cary elected board decides to go in a different direction.

For this reason, it is imperative that Cary and Chatham come together to have the General Assembly enact a local bill that gives both boards the power to approve or disapprove a development, annexation request, or change in the plan. Without such authority, this joint land-use plan exercise is meaningless window dressing.

Unfortunately, we gave away our leverage on this issue when the current board approved the Western Wake sewer line across the county without insisting on this requirement as part of the agreement.  But now we should test Cary’s good faith and not approve this plan until they formally agree on a local bill giving Chatham equal land use authority over this area.

In closing I want to quote from 16th Century poet William Cowper:  “God made the country, man made the town.”  What he said then is true today.  Let us not destroy the country God made in order to accommodate the expansion of Cary.

–Jeff Starkweather

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