Shaw Heights is a hot topic right now. There is legislation pending in Raleigh calling for its annexation. But is it the right thing to do for the city? For the citizens and landowners of Shaw Heights? Sharon Valentine and Jason Brady weigh in.
I got a text the other day from someone I consider a “tuned in” citizen. Part of the text read like this: “… Danger! Shaw Heights sh#t storm on the horizon.”
He was referring to the proposal by local legislators that Fayetteville annex the Shaw Heights and Julie Heights subdivisions.
He is right. The mere mention of annexation or proposing the forced taking of land and making it part of Fayetteville is like rubbing salt on road rash. In this case, it’s akin to ripping off a scab and dousing it with rubbing alcohol. Ouch! Let it heal.
For those new to the community or lived in a cave for the past decade, here’s the simplified back story on the complex issue of annexation. From 1960 through 1983 Fayetteville could not annex “citified” areas into the city like other North Carolina towns. Local lawmakers and volunteer fire chiefs got the General Assembly to exempt Cumberland County towns from the 1959 statewide annexation law. That law said, “… what is urban should be municipal.” It allowed towns to annex without giving the people being annexed a say in the matter.
So, Fayetteville lobbied the General Assembly to change the annexation exemption for Cumberland County. Even the daily newspaper’s editorial staff got on the bandwagon. Their persistence paid off, and the General Assembly, in 1983, gave Cumberland County towns authority to annex under the statewide law. At first, Fayetteville nibbled away at smaller annexations. From 1984 to 1988, Fayetteville annexed adjacent urban pockets, comprising 3,000 to 6,000 people.But the pendulum took an extreme swing the other way. The result: the Big Bang annexation of 2005. It scarfed up 27 square miles, 42,000 residents, and dragged them into the city.
The pushback was huge. Court battles between Fayetteville and anti-annexation groups ensued. But only the more affluent Gates Four Country Club prevailed. Lawyers for both sides are still getting billable hours. The Big Bang ended political careers. And in 2011, the General Assembly said no more forced annexations in North Carolina, unless people living in those areas want to be annexed. So, it was a surprise that Rep. Elmer Floyd filed House Bill 109, which according to the General Assembly website says is “an act adding certain described property to the corporate limits of the City of Fayetteville.”
If the Fayetteville City Council agrees, annexation would happen in 2018. But like the Shaw Heights and Julie Heights community, the City Council is divided. Council members are scheduled to go on the record on where they stand this Wednesday, March 22. The area comprises 630.89 acres of dilapidated houses and trailers speckled with some nicer, well-kept homes. Most of the houses were built right after World War II and during the Vietnam War. A 2008 county land use plan refers to the area as “showing age and decline.”
Murchison Road borders the area on the east, Bragg Boulevard on the west, and Fort Bragg and the recently completed leg of I-295 on the north. To the south is Fayetteville. Some ask why it was left out of the 2005 Big Bang annexation? Some claim Fayetteville excluded Shaw Heights because the area wasn’t worth it. In other words, it would cost more to provide services than the area could produce in taxes. Former city manager Roger Stancil said the city did not annex Shaw Heights because the county could get water and sewer to the area through a grant from the Rural N.C. Center if the area was not annexed. It never happened.
So, why annex now? Floyd, Fayetteville’s former Human Relations director, recently told a gathering of citizens that the 1,300 residents deserve enhanced services. Councilman Kirk DeViere says the area needs to be developed to city standards. The I-295 interchanges will make the area ripe for commercial development. Others say it’s a chance for the city to establish an attractive gateway for traffic coming off I-295. Still others see a less honorable motive. A few Republicans question whether the sudden interest in Shaw Heights and Julie Heights might be about adding more registered Democrats to the city voter rolls.
Floyd, a Democrat, sponsored the bill. Fellow Democrats Reps. Billy Richardson and Marvin Lucas co-sponsored the bill. On the Senate side, Sen. Ben Clark, also a Democrat, filed the Senate’s version of the bill. Political watchers point to the past two mayoral non-partisan elections, Mayor Nat Robertson, a Republican, won his first election in 2013 over Democrat Val Applewhite by only 250 votes. In 2015, he won by about 673 votes. Adding another 500 registered Democrats could affect future city elections. Finally, some among those annexed in 2005 fear that the Shaw Heights annexation will affect the schedule and available money for getting PWC water and sewer.
Mayor Robertson’s opposition centers on economics. He says the area consists of people who least can afford the taxes and fees that come with annexation. He says the services the area needs are available through the county. It’s the county that has failed those neighborhoods. Councilman Bill Crisp agrees. He objects to forced annexation, period. Crisp was among those who fought the City in court over the 2005 annexation before becoming a member of City Council.
According to Robertson, the city projects the area will provide roughly $200,000 in annual revenues. The county’s projection is even less. But PWC’s cost to put water and sewer in the area will be $7 to $10 million. “The area has issues, but why does the city have to come to the rescue?” Robertson asked. Councilman Ted Mohn thinks he has a solution. It’s called extra territorial jurisdiction. It’s where the city has jurisdiction for law enforcement and development standards.
In an email to fellow council members and city management, Mohn said the ETJ would protect the money for the Big Bang sewer construction. Also, ETJ would let the city provide incremental city services as budgets allow. The ETJ would start on July 1 and total annexation would happen in 2020. So far, “mums the word” on his proposal, Mohn said.
— Jason Brady
There is an adage: “everyone has a lobbyist except the poor.” And that theory will have been proven out with the fate of Shaw Heights and the decision of City Council to proceed with annexation. This painful reminder of political expediency and discrimination will test our political conscience and shine a light on the mayor and the council on what is more important — political careers or the common good.
There should be no argument on moving ahead with the annexation because Shaw Height presents Fayetteville with a tremendous opportunity. As we hurtle toward the development opportunities provided by the I-295 Loop at the Murchison Road exchange, Shaw Heights is Fayetteville’s new “Gateway.” Traffic patterns will direct visitors from I-95 and Spring Lake onto Murchison and into
the Downtown with the baseball stadium, the museums and local attractions. And as a lightly-populated rental area with open tracts of land, the economic forces could not be more aligned to solve problems associated with poverty and pivot to Fayetteville’s “new 2026 image.”
But maybe not! It appears that neither the city or the county have moved since the 2008 county plan to update and plan for the growth that has been
indicated on the maps since the initial approval of the loop. And let’s be honest, the attraction of private investment and its interest in the Shaw Heights potential is accelerating the need for the zoning, permitting and incentives that are imperative to good economic development and positive growth.
Why has there not been ongoing discussions and planning over the past 10 years rather than the county and city in a “stare down” on who will take responsibility for convening the debates on the Shaw Height suburbs, particularly when it is a “win-win” for both the city and the county?
While rumors of a commercial hotel being built and local developers looking at the numerous ways “to make a buck,” PWC is brooding over the size of sewer line pipes that would serve the present neighborhood rather than addressing a plan that would promote commercial development. And the road improvements on Shaw Mill Road in the NC Transportation Plan and the wetland area that would have to be addressed in zoning action are still a footnote. Where are our local boards and commissions that meet on a regular basis to look at issues that impact “good growth?”
Certainly, cost is a huge consideration as well as the bonds that would have to finance certain municipal improvements. But it is time to begin to poke our heads out of our respective silos and see who is out there. Developers will certainly have to pay part of the “freight” like sewer line hookups, compliance with the UDO, etc. if Shaw Heights is, in fact, part of Fayetteville.
But isn’t this area part of the acreage being considered by the council for our large sports complex: soccer fields, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, a competitive swimming pool—all the things that attract teams and competition from around the state. And have we not already approved bonds to fund this complex in the recent Parks and Recreation Initiative?
The bottom line is still that the least among us deserve acceptance and assistance as part of the total community, and turning our backs one more time (whatever the rationalization) is unacceptable.
Is Fayetteville ready to be the community envisioned in the 2026 initiative? If our elected officials cannot step up to the plate of annexation, then it is time to recruit a new team. Fayetteville is losing two top talents of the council—Ted Mohn and Bobby Hurst. And our “wise man” Bill Crisp is silent on his plans on running.
The deadline then falls on us — the residents, the taxpayers and the local supporters to find a mayor that puts purpose ahead of politics and a Council
that serves in the “interest of the common good.”
— Sharon Valentine