Wake reneges on Crooked Creek park, but it’s not over yet

Drone video: Wake leaders vote to sell former Crooked Creek Golf Course

The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted to sell the Crooked Creek Golf Course despite a previous vote to make the land a future park.
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The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted to sell the Crooked Creek Golf Course despite a previous vote to make the land a future park.

It started out as Crooked Creek. On Monday, it became U-turn Creek.

That re-christening came courtesy of a confounding 4-3 vote by the Wake County Board of Commissioners. The majority decided to reverse last year’s $4 million purchase of the closed Crooked Creek Golf Course near Fuquay-Varina and cancel plans to convert the 143-acre tract into a county park.

They did it despite a lack of parks in fast-growing southern Wake County; despite a purchase price below the land’s assessed value; despite the fact that the land comes with paved paths, parking lots and utilities that the county won’t have to install; despite the fact that Wake County has never sold parkland and despite overwhelming support for the park from people in the area.

And they did it because, well, because they could.

It’s hard to tell whether the vote is more irresponsible or irrational. Either way, it was highly unpopular. Supporters of the park filled the board’s chambers and more looked on from an overflow room. Commissioner Matt Calabria, a five-year member of the board and a backer of the park, said the email and comments he’s received in support of the park have been “off the charts.

Commissioner Greg Ford, who proposed the resolution to abandon the park plan and sell the Crooked Creek property as surplus property, did not respond to a request for comment.

However, Ron Nawojczyk, a leader of residents advocating for the park, had plenty to say. He said the four commissioners who voted to renege on the deal — Ford, Vickie Adamson, James West and Jessica Holmes — “made a mockery of the voice of the people and the democratic process by allowing dozens and dozens of speakers to present their opinions and then ignoring all of them.”

Carey Kidd encourages Wake County Commissioners to reject the sale of the Crooked Creek property. Despite dozens of residents’ pleas, Wake County leaders voted late Monday night to put the former Crooked Creek Golf Course property up for sale.

Crooked Creek’s more than 200 homeowners have good reason to feel not only ignored, but duped. They gave up property covenants protecting the golf course land because they were assured the county would buy it for a park. Now it could be used for any number of things.

Banging the gavel on the vote won’t silence the homeowners or other park supporters. They think they have a strong legal case that the land was sold on a false promise.

“Many supporters are disgusted with the actions of the board and have already volunteered their services and/or funds to take legal action to help the people of southern Wake County prevail against this hugely unpopular decision,” Nawojczyk said.

The roots of this dispute go back to school funding. Some board members were miffed that the commissioners did not approve the school system’s 2018 request for $45.2 million in additional money. Instead, the majority voted to give the schools an extra $21 million. That led to primary challenges against commissioners who opposed meeting the full request. The Crooked Creek purchase was held up as an example of those commissioners’ wrong priorities — buying golf courses instead of investing in schools or affordable housing.

But an unexpected slowdown in Wake schools enrollment makes the commissioners’ more moderate increase in school funding look appropriate. And the county already has a good program to support affordable housing, devoting half the revenue from a two-cent property tax increase to meeting that need. In any event, buying the golf course that has been closed since 2015 was a capital expense that didn’t affect funding for schools or affordable housing.

The vote to back out of the deal is an embarrassment to Wake County. With luck — and a strong legal challenge —the majority of commissioners may yet come to their senses and people in southern Wake County may yet get a place to exercise, to walk their dogs and play with their children. Why would county commissioners not want that?

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