Unbecoming if not slanderous

Published 8:56 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Should Mayor Carter Williams have said all that he did during last week’s Town Council meeting? Probably not.

Should he resign because of what he said, as has been suggested this week? Absolutely not.

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The proposal by Hearndon Construction to build 151 houses on the Pierceville farm that fronts on Main and Cary Streets has precipitated virulent opposition from some Historic District residents. Some among them have accused Planning Commission and Town Council members as well as members of the business community of being in the pocket of the developers. There have even been comments to the effect that payoffs can be expected for those supporting the project.

It’s unbecoming, if not slanderous, activity that falls well beneath the dignity with which we should expect a rezoning application or any other town business to proceed.

The irony is that since the Planning Commission recommended denying the rezoning of the Pierceville Farm for the project now being proposed, a majority of Town Council members have expressed serious reservations about the project as well. It is highly likely that the project will not be approved in its present form.

Unfortunately, it is not the project in its present form that is opposed. It is any significant housing project or other development on the Pierceville Farm — ever. And that is not a realistic view.

The cows are not going to return to Pierceville, though the latest occupant of the Pierceville house longed for such a return for years. And, in fact, were a dairy or beef herd to be introduced to the farm, you would be able to hear the opposition from one end of the Historic District to the other, because cows smell — a lot.

Nor is the farm going to be devoted to growing cotton and soybeans in perpetuity. That is simply not the highest and best use for the property, and property owners have a right to seek the highest and best use of their holdings.

Thus, Pierceville is quite probably going to be developed in one form or another, and the Smithfield Town Council would be foolish not to look responsibly and with an eye toward economic development at any proposal that might be presented, including the current one.

But back to the mayor’s comments. If you listen to a tape of the meeting, his primary complaints were (a) being personally called a liar and (b) having the town staff called incompetent. He took considerable offense at both.

Mayor Williams was, to a degree, inarticulate, in his comments, and he was divisive when he separated “come here’s” from “been here’s” in his remarks. But he was also hurt and frustrated, and local public officials are not required to take whatever is handed to them. The pay’s not that good.

What’s needed going forward is not the mayor’s resignation but a commitment by residents and officials to work together toward a Pierceville plan that will compliment the town’s Historic District rather than detract from it — a plan that will bring new business to the town as well as more talented people like the thousands who have moved here during the past four decades.

There is one alternative that might be suitable to the owners of Pierceville. I’m not recommending it because it is probably not in the town’s best interest, but it does address the desire to keep Pierceville rural, and and does so in a manner that respects private property rights.

If each of the signers of the petition opposing the Pierceville development were to put up about $6,000, they could organize and purchase Pierceville, lock, stock and dairy barn. It could then remain in farm production for as long as their organization chose to have it so. There would be no change in zoning, no development and they could even decide what crops would be most desirable.

Of course, if the new owners decided at some point that Pierceville should be devoted to a higher and better use, they would have to deal with whatever opponents were at that time waiting in the wings.