Friday, June 26, 2015

Narrow Passage starts election season early in Davidson

This column originally appeared in the Herald Weekly.

Filing for this year’s local elections doesn't start for a couple of weeks, but election-related shenanigans already seem to have started in Davidson.  As is typical in small-town politics, accusations are made, emails circulate, and unfounded rumors fly.

One such issue initiating some of that election related swirl is the proposed Narrow Passage development working its way through the town planning process for more than a year now.  This is the same development mentioned in a previous column regarding property rights and how Davidson’s view of those rights impacts its decisions

The issue at stake is whether or not this project should be approved by the Town Board – bringing new development to the town’s northeastern Extra Territorial Jurisdiction, or ETJ.   The proposed 59 acre site sits right at the intersection of Rocky River and Shearers Road.  It's that location that has generated opposition.

In another area publication, local resident Ed Harris penned a strongly worded editorial about a month ago.  He lamented the possibility that three Davidson Commissioners, aka a majority of those elected by the voters, might actually approve the project.

However, that editorial paled in comparison to an email that landed in my inbox last week.  This email from someone who can accurately be described as a very well connected town insider used language that can best be defined as fear-mongering.

For example, the emailer likened approval of the project to “allowing our award winning community based approach to devolve into a politically idealistic shift that embraces an environmentally disastrous imbalance between individual property rights and the rights of the common good.”  The emailer has a similar lament about “three of our five commissioners” and  goes on to say a “small group” is working to stop the project.

However, the emailer also encouraged people to educate themselves on the project.

Fortunately, that is easy enough to do because Davidson Town Hall spent about $9,000 tax dollars last month to educate itself on this project and rural planning in general by bringing in nationally renowned rural planning guru – Randall Arendt.

Below is what Mr Arendt had to say about the Narrow Passage in a memo to the town after his visit.

“It is my belief that the ultimate layout of this development would probably not change much, if at all, whether it is approved in a timely manner or whether approval were delayed until after a Small Area Plan has been devised, debated, and adopted – a process that could take 6-12 months. Its layout reflects the opportunities and constraints of this site, and any good plan for it would probably bear a very strong resemblance to what we came up with earlier this week”.

Arendt goes on to say “it is my belief that a plan update process would not alter the reality that the southeastern end of the ETJ is currently more suburban than rural, unlike the areas north and west of Runneymede and Maple Way Drive.”  Additionally “Narrow Passage and the property just to the north of it are virtually surrounded by suburban house lots, nothing very rural.”

Finally, and maybe most importantly, for those who are at all concerned about this project Arendt says this.  “I do not believe that approval would create any kind of legal precedent, once the town updates its planning documents and regulations. Adopting a moratorium to prevent new applications being filed during the plan update process would probably be a wise idea.”

Once you get past the planning lingo, the basic idea from Randall Arendt is that the proposal presents a good design and does not open the floodgates for new development as those who oppose it fear.

There are also other facts on the table that address specific concerns emailed and printed elsewhere.

They include a lower number of planned lots – as low as 32, down from 47, if the builder takes advantage of the town’s newly lowered Payment in Lieu for the affordable housing obligation.  Another is that according of Randall Arendt the planned use of septic systems is more environmentally friendly than the town-required installation of sewer for neighborhoods of this size and density.

The project has gone through a significant amount of public input including the three day session where Arendt was brought in at the town’s request.  Additional delays in the decision making process are unwarranted.

It is true that people, particularly Commissioners, should educate themselves, but the way to do it is not to listen to ideologically driven emailers intending to instill fear in an election season.

That education process continues Monday when this project goes before the town Planning Board.

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