Two items on last night’s council meeting agenda dealt with Obey Creek. First, the town’s Economic Development Committee asked for $30,000 to guide the developer in coming up with a plan for Obey Creek. Then the town manager proposed using a development agreement, as was used in the development process for Carolina North, as a tool to develop Obey Creek.
Irate citizens filled the auditorium seats to object to the town’s assumption that the property across U.S. 15-501 from Southern Village would be developed into a high-density mixed-use development. When the first few speakers came to the podium objecting to the town spending $30,000 to help a private developer who stood to make millions should the town approve his high-density project on land that the Southern Small Area Plan had deemed would retain its low-density zoning, Jim Ward jumped in and changed the wording of the proposal so that it no longer specified Obey Creek. Rather the money would be spent on unnamed parcels. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt hurriedly gaveled approval of that wording change, steamrolling the budget item through.
But as citizen after citizen came to the podium to express frustration that they had played by the rules and now the town was changing those rules, even Kleinschmidt, who had defended the idea of a development agreement, backed down. One citizen told of following procedure to file a protest petition, only to be told he couldn’t because no application for a project had been submitted. He was assured that he and his neighbors would be kept apprised of any developments, yet no one in his neighborhood had been given notice that the issue would be taken up at last night’s meeting. A well-spoken architect noted that the developer was advertising on the Internet for joint venture partners in an Obey Creek development, making it seem like a done deal, she said.
Donna Bell tried to defend the use of a development agreement, but her comments only solidified the impression that the town intended to approve a high-density development, despite assurances years earlier that if Southern Village were approved, the surrounding land would remain low density.
That’s when Pease brought up the matter of trust between town government and its citizens. Ed Harrison and Jim Ward agreed. Laurin Easthom had earlier supported citizens in objecting to $30,000 being spent under the assumption that Obey Creek would result in a dense development. Matt Czajkowski missed the meeting as he was in Haiti, volunteering his time and talents to help its beleaguered citizens.
Council members shelved the idea of a development agreement and asked town staff for input on reworking the Comprehensive Plan.
– Nancy Oates