Mayor Tom Stevens spoke about love and fear in Hillsborough during his 10th annual State of the Town Address on Monday night.
Citizens and visitors love Hillsborough because of its small-town character, the mayor told about 90 people at the Whitted Human Services Center Complex. That comes from a sense of place, a feeling of home and an experience of community, he said. Yet the opposite of love also exists, he said, in the fear people feel about possibly losing what they love about Hillsborough.
“The small-town character that we love is not guaranteed,” Stevens told the crowd. But he said he was optimistic Hillsborough would be a place people love in the decades to come if citizens work together to shape decisions.
In the past decade, the mayor said, Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area doubled in size, a new county library was built and the town saw a number of other additions: a senior center, farmers market pavilion, hospital, community college, community radio station, Handmade Parade, Riverwalk greenway and town parks.
Despite the many changes, the town has grown by only about 1,000 people. “I think most of you would agree that those changes are good,” Stevens said. “All those things are woven very much into the fabric of our community, day in and day out – and change is not something to fear.”
The Triangle area is expected to grow enormously, more than doubling by 2050, and there is fear that Hillsborough will become another Cary, he said.
“In reality because of the limits of our water and our traffic infrastructure, Hillsborough is likely to top out in our lifetime probably around 12,000,” the mayor said, noting that the projected doubling in population differs greatly from Cary’s growth of about 7,000 people in 1970 to about 135,000 in 2010.
Preserving Hillsborough’s small-town character will require making good decisions, he said. In following the long-term vision, he noted, town leaders have rejected a number of proposals, including several north of the Churton Grove community that were outside the town’s water and sewer service boundary and would have required extending service lines.
Collins Ridge developers agreed to a number of changes, including offering a variety of housing types, recreation in each pod of the development, a north-south trail through the development and funding for road improvements and town services, he noted, adding that the approval of the 1,000 housing unit Collins Ridge master plan is just the first stage in decisions on the development.
“Really the most important part comes from you,” Stevens said.
“We’re a small town of about 6,000,” he said. “A few decades ago, we were a small town of about 3,000. And a couple of decades from now, we’ll be a small town of about 12,000. That is still a small town. What is going to be important are the human connections we have.”