My wife and I have lived in the Garner community for a quarter century, raising our children here, and enjoying the small-town, blue-collar feel of “a Great Place to Live ... that isn’t Cary.“
Things have changed in Garner during the last 25 years. Sure, there is still some affordable housing left in Garner, and our affable mayor Ronnie Williams sports a “GARNER” vanity license plate on his car, and Lorraine’s Coffee House & Music includes a parking space “Reserved for Mayor Williams.” We still have small-town ambiance here in Garner, but make no mistake about it: We are going to be seeing some really big changes coming to our town in the not-so-distant future. There are already plenty of ominous signs of things to come.
Some mornings when I drive on Vandora Springs Road traffic is backed up for half a mile or more from U.S. 70. The morning drive on U.S. 70 heading toward Raleigh is usually moving at a crawl. The same is true on Garner Road in the afternoon as motorists head to Johnston County along the road that used to be the best-kept secret of how to get in and out of Raleigh traffic-free. No more.
Recently, the folks I live with on Perdue Street have been heading to Town Hall to register our fears that Garner may be growing too big, too fast. We have let our council members, town staff and Mayor Williams know that a planned subdivision adjacent to our street needs to include fewer homes to help keep the traffic congestion on Garner Road from being intolerable. We are also worried that a loss of trees, and construction and rainwater runoff could harm the ecosystem and endanger wildlife.
Garner’s growth has required that we taxpayers pony up for a new town hall and a bigger police station. Growth equals rising incidents of crime, which equals a larger police force, which equals a decline in our overall quality of life. The White Oak shopping center has expanded Garner’s tax base for sure, but not without consequence. Traffic accidents – several of them with fatalities – have ballooned in and around White Oak Road. There seems to be no end to the big-box stores and restaurants that keep opening in Garner.
While it is great to have a quality Wake Med mini-hospital in Garner, the growth of White Oak has meant a sharp decline in commercial occupancy in other areas of Garner. Considering the Wake County growth boom that shows no signs of letting up, maybe those landlords with empty buildings won’t have to wait much longer to have takers.
At this point, without a lot more citizen input to put the brakes on growth, I think it may be too late to stop Garner’s expansion from small town to formidable Raleigh suburb. A Feb. 10 Garner-Cleveland Record story regarding Garner’s soon-to-be-built YMCA stated that Garner Town Council member Buck Kennedy “and other elected officials and town staff see the YMCA as an economic development (read: growth) tool for attracting people to Garner.”
About 20 years ago, the late Father Charlie Mulholland, who was then pastor of Garner’s St. Mary, Mother of the Church Catholic Church, asked his parishioner, the late Garner Mayor Don Rohrbaugh why the mayor couldn’t just say: “Garner is big enough.” Charlie said Mayor Rohrbaugh responded by saying, “Because Father Charlie, I want to get re-elected.”
So good citizens of Garner, make no mistake about it, the politicians, bankers, developers, Realtors and builders are of one mind: Keep building in Garner until we run out of space to build any more. I love living in Garner, but I don’t want it to become another Cary.
O’Neill is a community activist and a resident of Garner.