Friday, April 7, 2017

Davidson Town Hall overseeing divisive time of its own making

Davidson is currently going through a divisive period in town history.

One can hardly turn around - in the virtual world in particular – without running across an organized group opposing something emanating from official Towndom.  One could almost feel sorry for the staff and electeds if not for the fact that most of the various controversies originate from Town Hall itself.

Showing that activism is alive and well in this college town, citizen activists have been pushing back hard against Town Hall initiatives with varying degrees of success.  What makes Town Hall’s actions all the more surprising is that multiple controversial issues are coming to a head in an election year.

Generalized opposition started in September 2015 with the “Paradise Lost” Facebook group forming immediately after the initial ideas for the “Catalyst Project” came to light.  The project to redevelop Town Hall and the surrounding area generated intense opposition.  Ultimately, the Town jettisoned the idea of a multi-use development with significant private sector input.

Fast forward to recent months and one sees Town Hall fending off rising opposition to implementing its Rural Area Plan.  Passed last year, the RAP recommends several changes to development patterns for thousands of acres primarily in the municipal Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ).  In December, the Town quietly moved forward on the important step of condoning critical water and sewer extensions to the ETJ.  However, rezoning large swaths of land for more intense development has been another matter.

Citizens did not want this mass rezoning to pass.  Nearly 750 signatures were gathered in an online petition asking Commissioners to hold off.  Signs opposing this rezoning dotted yards across town for weeks leading up to the March 28th vote.  So, it was hard to watch as Commissioners brushed those concerns aside, delivered what can best be described as condescending lectures from the dais on why citizen opposition was wrong, and passed the rezonings anyway.

But, that’s not all - not by a long shot.  Other voter-snubbing initiatives are also underway.

Davidson Town Hall is pushing development of 19 acres it owns off of Beaty Street.  That effort has generated another opposition group organizing on Facebook under the “Save West Davidson’s Tree Canopy” page.  This group has been vocal – packing recent Board meetings.  They are upset about the possibility of losing this land to development.  Concerns about traffic, loss of greenspace, negative impact to surrounding property values, and the speed with which this project is moving forward are just some of the problems listed by those who don’t like what Town Hall is selling.

The Town is also in the driver’s seat pushing forward a public facilities project to expand capacity for the Fire and Police departments as well as more parking and significantly more space for staff.  While few would deny the public safety departments need more space, concern about the necessity and potential cost of the other facilities expansions is riling some residents.  Making matters worse, at a recent Civics 101 class put on by the Town, Town Manager Jamie Justice indicated putting these expenses before the voters in the form of a bond referendum was “not recommended”.  “What if the voters say no?” he asked.

Taken together, these two projects might go by another name - “The Catalyst’s Revenge”.

Eighteen months after the original Catalyst Project reared its ugly head and was subsequently beaten back by citizen pressure, these two projects bring together all of the elements which ignited that original controversy.  The scope, size, and cost of these projects as well as expanded Town involvement in increasing development activity all bring back memories of those original Catalyst Project meetings.

Rather than learning from mistakes in how the Catalyst Project was rolled out and with the Board’s recent vote on the RAP as a guide, Davidson Town Hall has chosen a different path than one might expect.  Instead of giving voters what voters want, Town Hall is giving voters what Town Hall wants.

That’s a strange approach any year – stranger still for an election year.  How that turns put will be interesting to watch.

This post first appeared in this week's Herald Weekly at

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