The author, advertising director of The Pilot, serves as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce.
Rapid growth in a community is rarely a popular subject in the public discourse. It is often seen as replete with winners and losers. If money greases the skids, it also creates its own friction.
The growth stage is filled with good people, some of whom are reasonably satisfied with the status quo, suddenly faced with a threat to their piece of paradise, and others who do their work and move on to the next project. People get emotional in the process. Change is harder than status quo.
Even “good” growth has a cost to someone. I watched during the past decade, even in the depths of the Great Recession, as house after house was built in and around Whispering Pines to accommodate the new families moving here, many connected to the military. Our community is much changed as a result.
The number of wooded areas keeps shrinking as lots are cleared for new foundations for what becomes someone’s home. That’s the American dream, after all, and a good thing. But it’s also a constant loss of whispering pines to make way for progress and growth.
I get that, but I like the wooded areas. They are one of the reasons we moved there.
In a larger sense, the whole of southern Moore County faces a similar dilemma. We’ve all seen places that have been loved too much, that grew too fast and lost their charm. Myrtle Beach comes to mind. So does Boone.
So, what to do? It’s not possible to stop time, any more than it is possible for the last one in to shut the gate. In the parlance of business wisdom, one is either growing or shrinking. In other words, you can’t stand still. Evidence of shrinking towns can be seen all over eastern North Carolina, victims of a changing global economy. It’s not a pretty sight, nor is it easy to manage a community on ever-smaller populations and tax bases.
But that’s not the problem here, at least not in the southern part of our county. The crux of the issue is, and will continue to be, how we balance the forces of growth with the desire to keep the sense of place that we have all come to love.
Ask any natives, and they will go on and on about how much things have changed since they were kids. But it was evident even 50 years ago what would eventually happen along U.S. 1 and 15-501.
The growth and the changes on those corridors evolved relatively gradually. By and large, they were seen as positive — bringing to town more choices and conveniences, lower prices and less need to go elsewhere.
What seems to have changed is the scale of recent developments and the sheer number of them coming online in a relatively short period. The town of Whispering Pines has two groceries and now a big hardware store. Harris Teeter built its new prototype store on the edge of Pinehurst and Taylortown. Lowes answered with a newest version of its footprint. There are apartments and townhomes popping up in various places. The growth has got everyone’s attention, and it’s not suddenly going to stop.
Moore County has become the hub of a micropolitan region, serving as a central shopping and dining destination for many in the counties around us. That’s in addition to the normal tourism. Success begets success, leading still others to check out this hot new market.
It all started with the fact that because we are a strong tourism market, we were blessed with more boutique shops and good restaurants than most towns our size, and a larger retail market than you would expect for a county with 90,000 people. (God bless those golfers!)
That variety led nearby residents to come here for shopping and dining, rather than going to larger cities farther afield. We’ve reached a critical mass, it appears. The trend now takes nourishment from itself. It’s a good problem.
Expect when it isn’t. Except when people begin to feel the growth impact their own woods because all of the easy developments are done. From here on, it gets more difficult because of the choices to be made. Like whether a spot is right for a grocery store or a high-density apartment complex, a soccer field or even a hardware store.
No White, Black Hats
We see the friction building as projects come up. The voices get louder, conversations shriller, accusations more vitriolic. Local elected officials, trying to do the right things for their constituents and their communities, come to be seen as the enemy by some.
The choices will continue to get harder as we impinge on the edges of already developed space. Space is suddenly recognized as limited asset. And the pressure for growth is almost certain to continue.
Linda Parsons, president of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce, said the other day in a board meeting that on most days there is at least one call from someone wanting to know about opening a business here. The ones who decide on coming will need space, and there’s not a lot of vacancy in commercial.
The same for people wanting to settle here. Apartments are full with waiting lists, and rental price pressures are pointing northward. There isn’t much slack in the housing system right now. We’re suddenly a “best place to be,” but we knew that already.
In a recent meeting with the Chamber executive board, we talked about this subject, wondering aloud if the Chamber should take some stand on growth. As the roundtable progressed, it became obvious that there is no right answer to the questions surrounding current (and future) growth.
There are no white hats and black hats. Real estate development is an integral part of the fabric of every town and county. It allows people to put their property to its highest and best use, something that is instrumental in land-use planning.
Growth and development is only inherently good or bad when viewed from the eye of the people affected either positively or negatively. You’re a winner or a loser depending on your particular point of view.
The internet has done a lot of things to our world. One of them is that it allows people with insane ideas to join and believe they are perfectly normal.
That can also be good or bad, depending on the idea, but the net allows people a platform to say outrageous things they would never say face to face. That includes criticism of every descriptive style, meme tantrums, formal diatribes, and flat-out dumb stuff. Some people call it “Web Tourette’s.” Seems pretty appropriate.
Choose Our Leaders Wisely
At the end of the Chamber conversation, we’d decided that the course we could best look for is that our local officials be good stewards of this ground, protective of the place where we are, but farsighted and insightful for the future and what we’ll become. No one has a crystal ball.
Don’t beat up on your elected officials for trying to make the best decisions they can with whatever information they have. They have a hard job, and it’s getting harder. Decisions they make today will affect us for many years. Yet they also try to balance new tax sources with sustainable growth, keeping tax rates low and fair for everyone. Most serve rather selflessly and know right from wrong. Trust that much.
Come to think of it, why would any of us want to put ourselves in a situation where, while in trying to help our community, we become reviled for decisions we are by the nature of the position required to make? How does a public broil over every divine cedar to be cut, or every piece of land to be developed, serve us? If that is the constant, how will we even find good people to elect in the future?
Instead of wailing and gnashing teeth (too often on the internet), make sure you elect good leaders, give those good leaders your best opinions and information, and recognize that they are usually in the middle of a difficult decision with two sides and many shades of truth. Their job is to do the most good for the most people.
It matters whom we elect to office, at the local, state level, and at the national levels. Pay attention. Help them choose wisely. And pray for wisdom in their stewardship.