News-Star: Opinion

Just say no to crony capitalism

I consider myself pro-growth, unless growth is haphazard, but I’m also sympathetic to opponents of development.

Many people who live in Johnston County do so because they enjoy a little breathing room — a house on a decent-size lot, preferably with trees and a pond within view. So when a developer proposes to build a subdivision next door, these Johnstonians can start to feel a little claustrophobic, not to mention annoyed by a sudden influx of new neighbors.

Even more, it’s true that a new subdivision next door can have adverse impacts on a community. It can, for example, add cars to roads not able to handle them and students to schools with no classrooms for them.

But I’m not buying some of the opposition to a proposed wedding and events venue on N.C. 42 east of Clayton. Traffic concerns are, I think, overblown. At most, the venue would be able to accommodate 500 people. At two people a car attending a wedding, that’s not a lot of traffic. Just as important, folks don’t get married during the morning or evening commute; they get married in the afternoon or early evening on a Saturday or Sunday, hardly the busiest of times on N.C. 42 East.

I’m also not buying the argument that Johnston County commissioners should reject the events venue because they have an obligation to protect The Farm, an existing events venue near Interstate 95 between Selma and Micro. In fact, I find that argument to be one of the most dangerous ever voiced in opposition to a development project in Johnston.

That argument says Johnston commissioners have an obligation to protect an existing business at the expense of a proposed one. To the contrary, county commissioners have an obligation to not play favorites, to let businesses compete for consumer dollars and loyalty. That’s how our system works, or at least is supposed to.

Indeed, a protectionist system would have denied The Farm because it competes with meeting venues like Short Journey Retreat Center and hotel conference rooms. It competes too with concert halls like the Paul A. Johnston Auditorium and The Clayton Center and event spaces like Hinnant Family Vineyards.

The argument to deny the proposed events venue to protect The Farm came from the chief executive officer of Flowers Plantation, the sprawling mixed-use development on N.C. 42 east of Clayton. But Flowers Plantation embraces competition. Long home to a Food Lion grocery store, the community more recently welcomed Harris Teeter, a competitor. I suspect Flowers Plantation did so because it figured its residents would welcome the diversity and competition that a second grocery store would bring to the community.

I’ve been talking here about specific cases – The Farm versus a proposed competitor, Food Lion versus Harris Teeter. But broadly speaking, Johnston doesn’t want to be known as a county that will protect existing businesses from competition. What company would look seriously at Johnston if it thought commissioners would say no to protect a competitor already doing business in the county?

There are any number of legitimate reasons to oppose a development project. Fear of competition and crony capitalism aren’t two of them.