Eastern Wake News

Area leaders brace for a growth spurt

kbettis@newsobserver.com

When children have growth-spurts, awkwardness, clumsiness and accidents are often a large part of the transition into adulthood. Wake County leaders are trying to avoid being inept or cumbersome in the future by tackling the population boom head on.

A few dozen community leaders and members gathered Thursday night for a discussion on how to brace for growth, which county leaders believe could double by 2054 or sooner.

WakeUP Wake County, a grassroots non-profit that focuses on growth planning and sustainable living, hosted its first “growing pains” discussion at Knightdale Town Hall.

Attendees asked newly-elected Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson and Mayor Russell Killen about the three main concerns presented: drinking water, public schools and transportation.

Drinking water

Those concerned with increasing quality of living, including Hutchinson, are concerned with both the quantity of water supply and its quality in the coming years.

“I’ve seen projections as early as 2040,” said WakeUP Wake County executive director Karen Rindge about the demand of water exceeding supply. The most common estimate for eastern Wake County is 2060, which is still only 45 years away.

Falls Lake is limited and more droughts, like the 2007-2008 spell, are likely to occur.

In terms of quality, Falls Lake and Jordan Lake are polluted. Further development also affects drinking water and suburban sprawl.

Rindge presented solutions like practical steps toward protecting water quality through reducing nitrogen and phosphorus, reducing auto emissions and utilizing “green infrastructure” to lower stormwater pollution.

“City ordinances are key,” Rindge said.

Hutchinson pointed out that with 40 inches of rain a year in the Triangle, the issue is containment and management.

“Right now we only have a certain amount in capacity,” he said. “If we can increase it, it can go a long way...but be careful of maintaining quality while maintaining quantity.”

Transportation

Along with the population growth, Rindge’s presentation suggested that average commute time in Wake County will double to 50 minutes by 2035, maxing out major roads.

This will also lead to other issues like air pollution.

Hutchinson, a passionate preacher for greenways and healthy lifestyles, brought up biking and walking on greenways and sidewalks as alternative commutes in addition to public transit.

Building roads, repairing roads and working on a regional public transit system were offered as solutions. Reducing sprawl and creating healthy, walkable communities seemed to be a top goal for county experts.

Public transit has been shown to expedite traffic flow and improve air quality and even home value for those neighborhoods with easy access, Rindge said. The county already has gathered 70 individuals to work on a transit committee.

Public schools

Rindge pointed out that the county will need 33 more schools five years from now, in addition to increased resources, parental choice, magnet options and teacher support.

School reassignment is an unavoidable part of the growing pains, she said.

Hutchison boiled the issues down to resources, especially regarding teacher pay and capacity.

“When teachers are having to send kids to school on free and reduced lunch, we’re not paying them enough,” he said.

One audience member asked where the money will come from, and Hutchison responded that the board was working it out.

“I’m of the opinion that we need a long-term plan,” he said, adding that transparency, accountability and predictability were essential factors. “We need to involve the comunity.”

Knightdale Chamber of Commerce director Mary Yount said that she was surprised at the lack of foresight of planning for new schools in the eastern Wake region despite promises to build one under the latest bond. Hutchison responded that there would be another bond.

WakeUp board member and event moderator Tom Rhodes asked Killen and Hutchison why, as someone with children no longer in the school system, he should care about the public schools.

Killen responded that schools are a significant – possibly the top – economic driver.

“We’ve got to care for the kids. The day we quit worrying about the next generation we really have a problem,” he said.

Knightdale resident Lue Geddis, who is on the board of the Eastern Regional Center, said her family moved from the West Coast for the county’s school system.

“Knightdale is self-contained,” she said. “I don’t need to go to Raleigh. Everything I need is here.”

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