Kudos to Clayton for hearing consumers

Smithfield HeraldOctober 25, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in the Smithfield Herald:

Anyone who has tried to do business in Clayton knows the town can be a heavy-handed regulator on matters such as appearance. This is the town that famously sued its board of adjustment because the board had the audacity to overrule the town council on the size and height of a sign. This is the town that butted heads with a retailer that wanted nothing more than to put its signature color on a shopping center sign. One would think Clayton and Cary are sister cities.

The town can also be guilty of crony capitalism. Because brick-and-mortar restaurants pay property taxes that fill Clayton tax coffers, the town has, until now, outlawed food trucks, which don’t pay property taxes.

But consumers sometimes have different tastes and sensibilities than their elected leaders and town hall planners. It turns out they like the food trucks that frequent Deep River Brewing Co. It turns out they like shopping outdoors, although, until earlier this month, the town banned the outdoor display of goods.

The operative words here are “until now,” because town hall and the town council are adapting to consumer demands. As of this month, food trucks are now legal, though limited, in Clayton; ditto for outdoor sales.

At a forum this election season, and in our own reporting, Clayton voters have called on the town council to make it easier for businesses to do business in Clayton. The council has clearly responded.

This does not absolve a town hall that, in its pursuit of planning perfection, has proposed rules whose real-world consequences don’t sit well with businesses and consumers. Ditto for a town council that has passed rules with similar disregard and without adequately challenging town hall to defend its thinking.

But town hall deserves credit for responding to Clayton’s changing marketplace, and the town council deserves credit for acting on town hall’s tacit acknowledgment that it sometimes get the rules wrong. The challenge now is for town hall to show restraint in its rule-making and for the town council to give thoughtful consideration, not a rubber stamp, to those rules.

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