As the county seat, Carthage is a government town, and Moore County offices have long borne a large footprint there.
That can be a mixed blessing, offering a large daytime employment base for retailers looking to capture their share of errand-runners and lunch-seekers. But having a lot of government offices occupy prime real estate in your town also can hurt, in that it makes that land unavailable for development, and it yields nothing for the tax base.
So in a way it’s hard to find fault with the Carthage town officials for being a bit apprehensive about a new courthouse the county is planning to build downtown nearing existing
government buildings. In a joint meeting a couple of weeks ago, Carthage’s Board of Commissioners made clear to the county’s Board of Commissioners that they don’t need another big building inconveniencing residents and disrupting traffic.
“I would hate to be part of creating a nightmare just so you guys would be able to put your buildings together at the expense of the citizens of Carthage,” Mayor Pro Tem Milton Dowdy told county officials during that meeting. “I would expect the (county) commissioners to look at the considerations of the citizens before the convenience of a courthouse.”
Change Is Coming
A new courthouse is coming regardless. The state judiciary, upset by the condition and cramped conditions of the existing 40-year-old Courts Facility just off the main square in Carthage, has ordered a new one. Planning and architectural sketches are well underway.
Moore County originally wanted to raze the old jail on Saunders Street to make room for a new courthouse. That idea was abandoned after Sheriff Ronnie Fields told county commissioners in January that his department needs the building in order to comply with a new state law requiring detention centers to hold younger juvenile inmates.
The plan now calls for doubling the size of the existing courthouse by replacing the parking lot abutting Dowd Road with a second building. But as part of that, the plans include replacing a section of Dowd Road with a “landscape mezzanine.”
Dowd Road is the main thoroughfare that brings traffic from N.C. 22 straight into downtown. If the plan is approved, motorists traveling north on Dowd Road would need to make a left turn on Saunders Street and then turn right on Ray Street to reach the downtown traffic circle.
Yes, it’s just taking folks a block out of their way, but town officials feel the disruption would be pronounced, and it would remove parking from downtown as well.
“Cutting off our street is going to be a huge deal for us in Carthage,” Mayor Lee McGraw said. “I know a lot of you only come here when you have to, but we live here.”
An Open Discussion
So far, Moore County appears sensitive to these concerns. County Manager Wayne Vest told town officials that “Carthage has been a great host to the county for many, many years, and we’re very concerned with anything we do having an impact on Carthage.”
“The whole reason for this discussion,” Vest said, “is to make sure whatever direction we head with this facility, it does address the concerns and it doesn’t create a nightmare.”
The town and the county basically agreed to leave things as they are for now and collect a bunch of feedback from residents in a public forum. The state is also going to do a traffic analysis of the changes, so Carthage can have a sense of what to expect.
We like both sides talking. Both Carthage and Moore County need each other, and in all likelihood an agreement can get worked out. There’s too much history between these two. A little respect and understanding will go a long way toward a solution.