The middle 80 percent

Published 2:50 pm Thursday, March 15, 2007

By Staff
It’s no secret that some people would like to see the former Evans Seafood property and adjacent open space remain as open space.
It’s no secret that other people would like to see that land, which is situated mainly between the North Carolina Estuarium and former Maola facility on Water Street developed for commercial purposes.
Those factions, as one speaker at last week’s public hearing on what the city should do with the former Evans Seafood property noted, are the “10-percent extremes” who have been most vocal in debating the matter. The speaker, Chris Furlough, said he considers himself a representative of the “middle 80 percent” of people interested in what happens with the property.
Furlough is of the mindset that a mixture of uses — open space, commercial development and others — can co-exist on the land.
Apparently, he is not alone when it comes to that viewpoint.
Since the Planning Board voted 3-2 to recommend that the city sell the former Evans Seafood property, about a half acre, so it can be developed commercially, opponents of that recommendation have been bemoaning the board’s decision. And while they’ve been telling anyone who will listen the board ignored what the majority of the public wants in regard to the former Evans Seafood property, they also have been ignoring what the board also recommended.
The board suggests the city retain the open space next to the former Evans Seafood property, keeping it as open space forever. Few, if any, of the board’s critics include that piece of information when they talk about what the board did last week.
That’s being unfair to the board, especially those who voted for the recommendation that was sent to the City Council.
Most of the speakers at last week’s public hearing made it clear they want the property to remain as open space, possibly a festival park that includes an amphitheater and other park amenities such as gazebos and the like. That’s a form of development. Should all and any development of that property be banned?
How about people who would prefer to see a “frolf” course, where people toss Frisbees, or other flying disks, toward “holes” on the “frolf” course? Is their preference any better or worse than other preferences when it comes to development opportunities for that land? The desires of one group of people aren’t any more or less important than the desires of another group of people.
It’s important to keep in mind that doing what’s best for the most people should be a factor in deciding what to do with the property.
Two dozen speakers, for or against an issue, and 800 signatures on a petition for or against an issue are signals that many people care about that specific issue. It’s not proof that the majority of the city’s residents and taxpayers feel a specific way about the issue.
The city has a little over 9,000 residents. A petition with 800 signatures reflects what less than 10 percent of the city’s population believe should happen with that property.
It’s also no secret the city bought the property to further economic-development efforts in the city.
The city created an economic development/redevelopment capital reserve fund in January 1998. City officials said then the lone purpose of the fund was to pursue economic-development and redevelopment activities to promote jobs for Washington residents and Beaufort County residents. The fund was to be supplied with $50,000 a year from the city’s general fund for a period of no more than 10 years.
In May 1999, the City Council increased the economic development/redevelopment capital reserve fund so the city could buy the former Evans Seafood property.
Furlough is right. The two “10-percent extremes” have been most vocal when it comes to what to do with the property.
It’s time for the City Council to determine what the “middle 80 percent” of city residents and taxpayers want done with the property. The council should take time to make that determination. It’s likely members of the “middle 80 percent” would find a compromise that would be acceptable to them. The Planning Board’s recommendation is a compromise that could work.
Leave it up to the City Council to determine what the “middle 80 percent” of city folks want done with the property. And if those folks don’t like what the council chooses to do with the land, they can turn their displeasure into action at the polls. this fall.