02ShawTo annex, or not to annex. 

That is the question.

With a respectful nod to William Shakespeare and his angst-ridden creation, Hamlet, to annex Shaw Heights or not is indeed the question staring Fayetteville City Council members in the face. We can only hope they will be less tortured about their issue than poor Hamlet was about his.

The situation is this. Shaw Heights is an unincorporated neighborhood totally surrounded by the city of Fayetteville, running between Murchison Road and Bragg Boulevard.  It is poverty stricken, with only about 14 percent of the residences occupied by their owners and fully one-third of residences vacant, many in significant disrepair. In other words, Shaw Heights is an area that has tipped from residential and is ripe to become something else. 

But what?

That answer is unlikely to be anything positive unless Shaw Heights becomes part of the city of Fayetteville, receiving city services and the attentions of a professional city staff, both of which could promote development of a long-neglected area of greater Fayetteville. Shaw Heights has tremendous potential. It is on the border of a major new road system, paid for not by Fayetteville but by the state and federal governments. About 40,000 vehicles travel this roadway every day, moving easily between Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. This makes the area ripe for economic development, and, indeed, professional developers are already circling. Private sector investment in Shaw Heights could turn a down-on-its-heels ugly duckling into an economic swan.

In addition, as residents moved away from Shaw Heights and nothing much replaced them, the area has become largely a blank canvas awaiting the next good — or bad — thing. Controlled development of the area will build both Fayetteville and Cumberland County’s tax bases and provide meaningful commercial and residential development as well as green space.

Fayetteville’s City Council members continue to hem and haw about this annexation, citing concerns about North Carolina’s involuntary annexation provisions. Partisan politics may well be at play as well. Shaw Heights’ annexation is a major issue, but how it is playing out brings up a larger issue that Fayetteville residents talk about in private but one which is rarely raised publicly.

Let’s call it the vision thing.

Observers of government at all levels see this all the time. Some of those we elect to represent us have a clear picture of where they want our community/state/nation to go, and they pursue plans and policies to achieve their goals. Other elected officials are literally clueless. They have few pictures or plans to advance their communities. In many cases, their decision-making depends not on the merits of an issue but on other factors, first among them whether their decision would keep them in the good graces of their constituents. These elected officials may be very nice people. Most are, in fact, but they are not leaders.

Without naming names, our community has a history of electing such folks, in part, because few others step up to the plate. Offering oneself for elective service, or any service that opens one up to public judgment and potential criticism, can be a scary prospect. Running for and serving in public office affects not just the person whose name is on the ballot or who prevails in an elective contest, but his or her family and friends as well. 

Even so, I have wondered many times why so and so did not run for public office, and I have asked a number of people to do so. I have been turned down far more often than not for all sorts of reasons, including, “Why would I want to work with ‘those people?’” Many have expressed that they are too busy or already over-committed. My answer to that is if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.

Fayetteville City Council has the Shaw Heights annexation issue squarely on its plate with a vote looming. City residents — indeed the entire metropolitan area — can only hope they will put partisan and philosophical concerns aside. Allowing Shaw Heights to remain an island of blight surrounded by a city striving to move forward would be a disappointment to those who work for Fayetteville’s advancement and prosperity. It would be a decision that would hold back our city.

Let’s encourage Fayetteville City Council members to be leaders with a vision and annex Shaw Heights for the good of our community.

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