Davidson is in a cycle of growth, much like the one we experienced in the mid 2000’s before the “Great Recession.” With growth comes opportunities, but growth also presents challenges as things change, and our infrastructure becomes more stressed.
Davidson was founded in 1837. Since then, the Town has grown steadily. While some feel our current growth rate is unusual, it is actually the lowest it’s been since the 1980s. In 1990, Davidson had 4,000 residents. By the end of the decade it was up to 7,500, an increase of 3,500 residents, or over 75% growth. In the first decade of the 2000s, Davidson added another 3,800 residents – an increase of over 50% – bringing the population of over 11,000. While rapid, this growth was actually significantly less than that experienced by our neighbors, in part a reflection of our greater separation from Charlotte, but also a result of our commitment to limit growth and to protect open space.
As I’ve consistently said, Davidson will grow. We’re part of the Charlotte region, one of the fastest growing regions in the United States. And, Davidson is a very desirable town. People will wish to move here, and they will move here. Property owners who wish to sell their land for development will be able to do so because North Carolina is a state dominated by a legislature and court that favors personal property rights. I’m not saying that this is good or bad, but it is our reality.
I’m often reminded of the scene in the first Star Wars movie (the first in theaters; I’m not sure which ‘episode’ it was (I’m middle aged, but not a Star Wars fanatic)) where Luke Skywalker is trapped inside a giant trash compactor, with each side closing in on him. This scene is my analogy for our reality in Davidson: on one side we’ve got Charlotte, and on the other side we’ve got our state government’s support of property rights. So we’re in the middle, trying to survive.
Much like Luke Skywalker, Davidson will survive these forces. And, if we grow responsibly, Davidson will continue to thrive.
We started a custom home building company, John Marshall Custom Homes, in 2002. Over the past 15 years, we’ve built dozens of Energy Star and LEED certified homes which result in millions of tons less carbon in the air. We’ve created two small developments in Davidson that are models of good design and walkability. Because of my profession, some people say “you must like to see things develop.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t like to see development, but I recognize that it will occur, and I want it to be done responsibly.
Here’s what I consider to be the tenets of responsible growth:
- Target growth close to existing infrastructure, primarily close to our existing village center. Doing so results in less clearing of trees, and less disruption to put in new infrastructure. It also results in less traffic than otherwise because car trips are shorter, and opportunities to walk are greater
- Along with targeting growth close to our existing village center, growth should also be targeted towards mixed use, walkable neighborhoods. Recently the person who manages Mecklenburg County’s air quality measurement system came to our Board meeting to provide an update on air quality in Mecklenburg County (it has improved greatly over the years thanks to measures that reduce auto and smokestack emissions). I asked her what we could do as the Town of Davidson to improve air quality. Her immediate response was to “create mixed use, walkable communities.” Does everyone walk everywhere in a ‘walkable’ community? Of course not, but they walk more often than they would otherwise, and when they do drive, it is for shorter distances than otherwise
- In new residential development, cluster homes in order to protect open space. This is one of the tenets of the recently adopted Rural Area Plan, which requires a remarkably high set aside of open space (an average of 63% in our rural area, resulting in an ADDITIONAL 340 acres of protected open space compared to our existing requirement of 50%).
- Require a variety of housing sizes and types in new residential development. In 2016 the Town was sued by Artisan-Knox over our affordable housing ordinance. One of the outcomes of that lawsuit is that we updated our planning ordinance to require a greater variety of lot sizes and housing types in new developments, thus ensuring greater diversity than we would have had otherwise. The Exit 30 area is a great example of the diversity that results when a variety of housing types are built.
One of the first important votes I took as a Commissioner was in 2012, when the Town Board was deciding whether to simply and streamline the development review process in order to encourage development in Davidson. The Board at that time included two others who are seeking election this year. Alone among my colleagues, I voted against making development easier. I am sure those who supported making development easier had their reasons, but I’ve never supported making development easy. I think the process should be fair and consistent, but it should not be easy. There needs to be community involvement and all development projects should come before the Town Board for review. I believed that in 2012, and I believe it in 2017. My positions don’t change based upon economic or political considerations.
Growth provides opportunities in addition to challenges. Recently I saw a headline from a local blogger about the proposed expansion of the Our Town Cinemas from 4 to 6 theaters. The headline said something like “finally, a good kind of growth.” Well, businesses don’t expand in markets that aren’t growing. We wouldn’t have the many amenities and new businesses that provide jobs and experiences for our citizens if we were a stagnant town.
Many candidates will tell you they’re going to stop or significantly slow down growth in Davidson. This is of course a popular thing to say. As John Lennon said, “we’d all love to see the plan.” So, ask them for the plan, and make sure they understand all the ramifications of stopping growth in a growing region.
I am bullish on Davidson. When we moved here in 2005 Davidson had about 8000 people. Today we’re closer to 13,000. Yes, there is more traffic than 12 years ago. But there is a movie theater in Town, many new restaurants we can walk to, over a 1000 new jobs for our citizens, and many more people that I call friends. In short, we enjoy living in Davidson more than ever, and if we continue to grow responsibly, that will continue to be the case.