I can be hard on politicians, though I try to aim my pen at elected boards, not at their individual members. For me, it’s about policy, not personalities.
Johnston County citizens can be hard on their leaders too. In a recent letter to the editor, Clayton resident Bennett Strickland skewered Mayor Jody McLeod for saying a Clayton resident’s concerns meant nothing to him. To quote the mayor: “What you love is not a hill of beans to me.”
I suspect the criticism stung Mayor McLeod, though perhaps he could have chosen his words more carefully. What the mayor meant was that when the Clayton Town Council hears a rezoning request, it must, by law, be impartial. In that light, perhaps he should have said, “What you love cannot mean a hill of beans to me.”
So while opponents of a high-density development might love Clayton or Smithfield or Four Oaks for its small-town charm, what they love cannot, by law, influence a council’s decision. What they love, in other words, cannot mean a hill of beans to a mayor and his or her fellow council members. More specifically, absent evidence that a proposed development would do its neighbors actual harm, a town council must OK a development if it meets the town’s land-use rules.
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And that brings me to my larger point here. Whether in Clayton or Cleveland, Selma or Smithfield, folks who like their lots large and their growth slow tend to oppose specific developments. What they should be doing, I think, is lobbying their elected leaders to adopt land-use rules that help preserve the nature of the small towns they love.
In Clayton and most other towns, land-use rules allow high-density developments. Don’t want them or want them restricted to, say, downtown? Then lobby councilmen to change the rules.
I don’t know much about the development business, but I suspect most developers are willing to play by whatever rules a town has. But once a rule is in place, I suspect developers expect town councils to play by the rules they write. In the case of a proposed subdivision in Clayton, town rules allow the housing density the developer is requesting. It would be unfair, and likely unlawful, for the town council not to follow its own rules.
I live in Four Oaks, one of Johnston County’s smallest towns, but if Four Oaks suddenly had a growth spurt, I’d be OK with it. I know growth brings more of the bad stuff – crime, traffic congestion, school crowding. But it also brings diversity in shopping, dining and people, and I like that diversity.
But some folks see more bad than good in growth, especially rapid growth, and I understand that. But lobbying against individual developments isn’t the way to shape growth in Clayton or any other Johnston County community. To shape growth, shape policy. And then criticize any politician who says a constituent’s policy views don’t mean a hill of beans to him.