Benita Conrad

Benita Conrad

I think I speak for all Councilmembers in saying we ran for Council in order to serve and we all take that responsibility very seriously. In over 20 years of service to Harrisburg, I do not feel I have ever done anything to the detriment of Harrisburg.

This weekend I re-read the emails I’ve received concerning the proposed development on Stallings Road. Some were very thoughtful, considerate and appreciative of our service on Council. Others were disrespectful, offensive and attacking our credibility and questioning our integrity; some even wrongly suggesting the council was committing illegal acts.

I know it has become a national trend the media and politics, but I never thought I would see it in our “small town” of Harrisburg. I would say we have already lost that “small town” feeling so many are worried of losing with the addition of this development. “Small town” is not so much about size as it is about the way we treat each other; valuing people over money, being sensitive to other’s needs, taking care of each other, speaking reasonably and respectfully to each other, listening to one another, trusting each other and being honest with each other.

Members of the community have threatened Council members with being voted-out if they do not vote against development. I do not think voters really want Council members making decisions for the Town based solely on whether or not the way they vote wins them re-election. Making decisions based on getting re-elected would not make for an ethical or logical decision on our part.

My family moved to Harrisburg in 1981. Our family considers this our hometown, although I was born in Charlotte. My family has made Harrisburg the place we call “home.” In 1980, the population of Harrisburg was 1,400. The population is now more than 10 times that. At some point, most of us would like to say “we’re good now, let’s not grow anymore.” This “small town” was growing when we moved here almost 40 years ago and it was growing when all of you moved here. The fact that Harrisburg was growing was why you were able to move here; those same farm families of lifelong residents developed the property most of us now live on. Harrisburg did not stop growing when I moved here, it did not stop growing when you moved here and it is going to continue to grow.

Harrisburg’s annual growth rate

1980 – 1990 1,433 to 2,414 68%

1990 – 2000 2,414 to 4,646 92%

2000 – 2010 4,646 to 11,526 148%

2010 – 2018 11,526 to 17,327 50%

The very reasons most of us moved here, are the very reason our “small town” population has grown more than ten-fold in the last 40 years. Harrisburg is a great place to live and raise a family. It is kind of hard to keep that a secret. Harrisburg will still be a great place to live and raise a family when this development is completed in 5 years.

Whether you moved here in 1990, 2000 or 2015, you moved to within 5 miles of Charlotte, the 4th largest city on the East Coast. Charlotte’s population is smaller than only New York City, Philadelphia and Jacksonville. The expectation that Harrisburg is not going to grow is unrealistic.

People move here for the schools and the “country living” but they also move here for the conveniences associated with a large city like Charlotte:

Great jobs: According to UNCC’s Urban Institute, more than 30,000 people from Cabarrus County commute to Charlotte for work.

Major economic engine: Charlotte is a major retail center, major banking center, major transportation and manufacturing hub, manufacturing and abundant healthcare resources.

Major university: UNCC educates our bankers, accountants, motorsports engineers and IT professionals.

Major league sports: How many of us are season ticket holders to the Panthers, Hornets, Independence, Knights or Checkers?

Major arts and entertainment venues: Blumenthal, Oven’s Auditorium, Spectrum Center, PNC Music Pavilion, NASCAR Hall of Fame, White Water Center, Music Factory and countless others.

So ask yourself: When you moved here, was Harrisburg growing? It was. Did you expect it to stop growing when you moved here? Should we slam shut the door once you moved here?

The Town recently completed a year-long re-examination of our community’s needs in the updating of the “Harrisburg Area Land Use Plan” or “HALUP”. I was pleasantly surprised by many of the findings of this study:

Of homes sold from 2013 through 2015, 82% sold for $250,000 to $500,000+; that benefits us all in with increased home values.

Only 25% of Harrisburg land has been developed residentially; and

27% of Harrisburg land is preserved in parks and open space.

I have heard many irrational and illogical arguments against this development. Many of these arguments have been based on misinformation and emotion. To imply or state, that to live in a good neighborhood with good neighbors one must live in an all-brick house on a half-acre lot, is an extremely prejudice assumption; since when does the exterior of a house define moral character. Not to mention, that many of the folks making that suggestion live in vinyl-sided houses on 1/3 acre lots. Fortunately, we lived in the United States and have the freedom to choose the house we live in, the size of our lot and the price we want to pay for our house. I have addressed many of the concerns I have heard against the proposed development in the paragraphs that follow.

High Density Residential? School Overcrowding? Heavy Traffic?

This is NOT High Density Residential; it is Medium Density Residential at 2.33 units per acre. This development will not add to the urban sprawl; only 60% of the available acreage will be developed into lots with 20% of the property being roads, leaving 20% permanently deeded as undeveloped. The completion of the stub roads connecting with Stallings Farms are required by Town ordinance in compliance with state fire code, NOT the developer. A new Traffic Impact Analysis was completed in the last few weeks and indicates less traffic will be created from this development than the original traffic study due to the age-restricted portion of the community. The developer will complete road improvements as required by our conditions of approval and state regulations. The extension of Raging Ridge Road is required by our regional comprehensive transportation plan and the developer will be paying for it. The Cabarrus Board of Education has addressed or will be addressing the issues of overcrowding in the Harrisburg area schools.

Flooding?

I have heard some argue that this development will increase the likelihood of flooding. This is simply not true. The required storm water improvements in this development will actually help flooding issues. Currently, all the water runoff of this vacant land flows downhill to Back Creek. The Storm Water Mitigation Plan required with this development will reduce the amount of water flowing through Middleton to Back Creek.

Property Rights

After paying property taxes on their land for 200 years, some of the Town’s founding families now want to sell their farms. For whatever reasons or combination of reasons, they have this right. Whether they are retiring from farming, need retirement income, do not want to or cannot afford to pay rising property taxes, healthcare concerns, or moving into senior living arrangements. For me personally, and sadly, just this past August my mother’s 90 year old historic home, the house my parents had called “home” for 40 years, was moved out of Harrisburg. My mother sold the house in order to move into her retirement home. It is sad to see our old and longtime residents move away and the many others who have passed away. We have lost a piece of our heritage as a Town in the loss of these residents. I too, miss the Harrisburg I moved to almost 40 years ago, but Harrisburg is growing and evolving. Gone are the days of the farms and open countryside. We would all love to have the farms and cows, I know I would, but that is not the way life goes. Things are always changing and it cannot be stopped…children grow up, we get older, beauty fades, our health declines, and our parents pass away.

Margaret Ann Stallings and her ancestors have been paying property taxes on this land for the last 200 years. For the last 10 years they have been paying these property taxes (by my calculation approximately $150,000) with little or no income coming from this property. She has the right to sell her property for the highest and best use, which at this time is residential.

Money Magazine ranked Harrisburg 41st on Best Small Towns in America and second Best in North Carolina. We did not make this list by rubber stamping development. This Council has thoroughly examined this proposed development.

With residential growth there is give and take. It is a revenue stream that requires expenditure. That being said instituting a moratorium on development has in many cases been ruled illegal by the courts. Changing the minimum lot size requirements to a half-acre, would increase infrastructure costs and the costs of services by having to extend roads, sidewalks, water and sewer lines, the cost of public safety, the environmental impact will increase with garbage trucks, postal trucks, public work trucks, delivery trucks, all travelling greater distances to service our residents.

The Council looks at each new development that comes to the Town Council for approval and evaluates all aspects based on Town Ordinances, the Town’s Land Use Plan, the traffic impact and developer imposed Conditional Uses. All of this while continuing to weigh the importance of private property rights. The Town’s Planning Staff rejects a majority of developments that are proposed. Only the developments meeting the Town’s quality standards are brought to the Town Council for a vote. In the case of this particular subdivision, Council has been in dialogue with the developer concerning this property for about 18 months. Council members have agonized over this proposed development as we have struggled to balance the property rights of the owner with the needs of our community.

The issue here as with all re-zoning and development questions is property rights. One person’s property rights do not eclipse another’s. We as citizens all have the right, with minimal restrictions to sell our property. Whether that is a crop, a vehicle or yes, evens a piece of land. We also have the right to sell that property for the highest price we can get and to whoever offers us the best deal. Neither residents nor the Town Council have the right to tell someone they cannot sell their property. If you want the land to remain farm land, you have the right to offer the Stallings’ the fair value of the property and purchase it for yourself. If the Council fails to zone this property in a reasonable manner, we would in essence be violating the Stallings’ right to sell their property. The Town Council is responsible for administering the business of the Town; we have a responsibility to what is in the best interest of the whole Town, even if it is not a popular decision.

I greatly enjoy the opportunity and responsibility to serve you and the Town of Harrisburg. It is not a responsibility that I take lightly. I strive to do what is best for our Town on a daily basis. I will continue to make ethical and rational decisions that are in the best interest of Harrisburg. If you do not agree with those decisions that is certainly your right. If you feel the need to vote me out when I am up for re-election that too is your right. However, I will not make decisions based on getting re-elected. To do so would violate my personal principles and ethics. I have served this Town long before I was elected to Town Council and will continue to serve the Town I love, long after I no longer serve on Town Council.

Benita L. Conrad is a Town Councilwoman in Harrisburg.

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