Serving Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Princeton & Pine Level since 1973

Commissioners return to growth debate

In 2019, board failed to cross growth management off of its to-do list

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SMITHFIELD — County Commissioners Chairman Ted Godwin used much of his State of the County address last week to sing Johnston’s praises.

“In reviewing 2019 in Johnston County, one could say it has been a great year,” Godwin said. “We continue to have low unemployment, continued job growth, strong bond ratings and sound financial health.”

But on one score — growth management — Johnston fell short in 2019, Godwin said. “In our message last year, we cited frustrations and difficulties experienced my many of our residents with things like traffic congestion,” he said. “Last year, I said that ‘addressing these concerns and finding balanced solutions must be one of the highest priorities of this board.’ ”

That didn’t happen, Godwin conceded. “We had many issues to deal with, but we have not adequately dealt with that particular one,” he said.

Not that commissioners didn’t try, Godwin said. “Collectively and individually, we have had many discussions with our planning department as well as stakeholders in the county,” he said.

Still, 2019 came and went without much growth management.

“Many business people would say if you are not growing, you are dying,” Godwin said. “However, we have seen the pressures of rapid growth on our transportation system, our water and wastewater system, and infrastructure in general. Many who live in these high-growth areas have said they are experiencing a deterioration in their quality of life.”

“With that said, we also know that commercial investment follows rooftops, so it is indeed a balancing act,” Godwin said. “I am confident our board will strike the appropriate balance in 2020.”

Godwin delivered his State of the County remarks during the commissioners’ morning meeting on Jan. 6, and the board returned to the topic of growth management that evening.

Denton Lee, a Johnston native and Cleveland community resident, acknowledged the tight rope the board is trying to walk.

“Almost half the counties in North Carolina are losing population,” Lee noted. “I believe we would all agree that growth is a great problem to have.”

That’s because a growing county yields a “growing tax base that shares the cost of services” among all Johnstonians and “allows us to be more progressive with our infrastructure, our schools, our health care and issues that impact our quality of life,” Lee said.

“But with that growth comes the awesome responsibility to manage the growth in a way that can be sustained for existing and new residents,” he said.

Commissioners have talked about steering high-density growth — apartment complexes and subdivisions needing sewer — to land in and around the county’s towns, where infrastructure is already in place.

Lee said he supported such a policy. “Our schools, roads and available recreational space simply cannot sustain the density of recent growth in (our) unincorporated communities,” he said. “I implore you to make the hard decisions necessary with building and zoning policies so that appropriate rural development can continue to thrive and our towns can also growth.”

Godwin said that if it were up to him, no residential lot in rural Johnston would be smaller than an acre. “Let’s keep the rural nature, let’s keep the quality of life and push that growth to the towns,” he said.

But Keith Taylor, who lives near Clayton, was wary of that town growing any closer to his home. “Keep Clayton away,” he said. “They’re getting a little too close.”