Keeping the Crooked Creek park is the only option for Wake County

Wake County Democrats can’t stand prosperity.

Once the party gained full control of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, Democrats started fighting with each other about funding for Wake schools. Some commissioners wanted to give the schools all the school board requested; others said there have to be some limits.

That led to primaries, the ouster of two capable and committed Democratic commissioners, John Burns and Erv Portman, and a lot of bad blood. Because the Democrats basically agreed about almost everything, a divisive issue needed to be created for the primaries. That turned out to be disagreement over the board’s vote to spend $4 million to acquire 143 acres of the closed Crooked Creek Golf Course near Fuquay-Varina. The plan is to use the land as a park for park-starved southern Wake County.

Critics of the deal argued that the money could be better spent on affordable housing or schools. Some even suggested that the purchase was an effort to buy votes from residents near the planned park. But those complaints had no foundation. Capital budgets and operating budgets are separate. It isn’t an either/or issue. Meanwhile, there is strong popular support in southern Wake for buying the golf course. That the commissioners responded favorably wasn’t buying votes, it was democracy.

Nonetheless, a silly dispute has now turned serious. On Monday, the board will vote on a motion by Commissioner Greg Ford to declare the Crooked Creek land surplus property, sell it and move a proposed park in Southeast Wake County up to No. 1 on the county’s park priorities list.

A big crowd is expected for the 5 p.m. meeting at the Wake County Justice Center. Most of the people won’t be there to back the tortured logic behind Ford’s motion. They’ll be there in support of the obvious: The Crooked Creek deal is a great deal for Wake County. But don’t underestimate the power of resentments from the primaries. A majority of the seven-member board may yet declare the purchase misguided and vote to toss the land back on the market. If that happens, there will be a genuine cause for Democratic primaries in the next election. Reversing the purchase would be an act of financial malfeasance and political tone-deafness.

While there’s no justifiable reason for abandoning the park, there are plenty of good reasons to keep it. The strongest is that it’s a bargain, especially in a fast-growing county where open space is disappearing and land values are rising. When the county can get a big piece of open land, it should take it. It’s crazy to give open space back.

Commissioner Sig Hutchinson, a strong advocate for greenways and parks, said, “Never in the history of this county have we sold parkland.”

Many people who live near the former golf course are already going there to exercise. The park, in that sense, is already in use.

Commissioner Matt Calabria, a backer of the park at Crooked Creek, said, “This isn’t about providing something. It’s about taking away something.”

And if it’s taken away, the county can count on legal challenges from nearby residents. The board should not make a good deal into broken one. It should reject Ford’s motion and move on.

Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@ newsobserver.com