The town of Summerfield will hold a public hearing to decide the fate of nearly 1,000 acres currently within the township. Officials there are weighing whether or not to accept a mix of housing and retail developments or lose control of the property to de-annexation efforts spearheaded by North Carolina Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger and the developer David Couch.
Winston-Salem State University professor of geography Russ Smith spoke with WFDD’s David Ford.
On the nature of this conflict and the players involved:
"It's been years in the making. You have a developer that owns property that wants to put that property — I'm sure he would say — to the highest and best use; doing a higher density product than exists currently in Summerfield. And locally in the region, we need housing with all the growth of the new industry and especially affordable housing — I haven't seen price points on these things but — the mixture of shopping and houses and apartments. So, this notion of developing some land is something that happens every day around the country. What's unique in this situation is the town has rebuffed his requests to get the land to a rezoning that would allow him to develop under this plan that he has. And at that point, in many instances, cities, towns, villages will have conversations with developers about what would work there. Those conversations have led nowhere — either one side will not budge from the amount of density they want, either a high or a low amount — and as a result, the latest has been to potentially have the legislature step in to de-annex the property — to take it out of the town's control — and put it under just Guilford county's control in which any plans for development would then have to be approved by a different governing agency — the Guilford County agencies that control planning — and he might then get a different result from what he was getting from dealing with the town of Summerfield."
On the intervention of state government officials in a town property debate:
"In my knowledge of it from around the country and doing research on local government boundary change that includes the exact thing they're talking about — the annexation — it's pretty unusual. We don't see a lot of the annexations occurring nationally. Often if you do have a de-annexation, it is mutually agreed upon, meaning that the city and the property owner at the same time request the legislature to come in and remove land from its jurisdiction. And it could be for a number of reasons. This one where the property owner is asking for something and the town is not in agreement with the request is — I won't say it's never happened — but it's unusual in the studies that I've done and my understanding of this type of boundary change."
On Summerfield residents' concerns over de-annexation:
"There's several valid points on both sides of this conversation that's going on ... Summerfield is a relatively new municipality. What does it mean to be a municipality in North Carolina? Is it a full-grown city someday? Is it providing services that you'd find in urban places like a Winston and a Greensboro, Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte? Can they maintain their rural character if when they incorporate that that's what was important to them? And I think the other question is, who controls land use decisions? The town clearly has its mind set on a certain land use vision. Yet, in this case, it's getting to the point where Raleigh is stepping in and saying, 'you know, we don't agree with what you're doing here. We're going to give someone else a chance to control the land use.' And often cities incorporate because they want to control land use.
As far as infrastructure, I mean, you have a situation where ... the land is surrounded by the town. And so if it's annexed, you're going to create a donut in which you'll be driving on a road and you'll be in the town and then you'll be out of the town, and then you'll be back in the town because of the de-annexation if that were to go through ... You might have this very high density that needs services in only one part of the community. And what does that mean, especially for traffic volumes that are generated? For the project itself, they might have streets wide enough, and they might have turn lanes incorporated, and maybe there's a need for traffic signals or other things, but once you get off that 970-something acres, what's the rest of the surrounding infrastructure that needs to support it? Is the density going to require, you know, additional fire service? Is it going to need additional park space? Schools, which don't come under the purview of a town, but these are all considerations of other infrastructure that density brings with it ... If it was on the fringe of a community, you can almost see where it would grow kind of bit by bit, but this being kind of smack dab in the middle of the town and surrounded by the town, it does have the potential to have some adverse side effects on surrounding land uses and property."