Keep­ing new park land is the only op­tion for Wake

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - Bar­nett: 919-829-4512, nbar­[email protected]­sob­server.com

Wake County Democrats can’t stand pros­per­ity.

Once the party gained full con­trol of the Wake County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, Democrats started fight­ing with each other about fund­ing for Wake schools. Some com­mis­sion­ers wanted to give the schools all the school board re­quested; oth­ers said there have to be some lim­its.

That led to pri­maries, the ouster of two ca­pa­ble and com­mit­ted Demo­cratic com­mis­sion­ers, John Burns and Erv Port­man, and a lot of bad blood. Be­cause the Democrats ba­si­cally agreed about al­most ev­ery­thing, a di­vi­sive is­sue needed to be cre­ated for the pri­maries. That turned out to be dis­agree­ment over the board’s vote to spend $4 mil­lion to ac­quire 143 acres of the closed Crooked Creek Golf Course near Fuquay-Va­rina. The plan is to use the land as a park for park-starved south­ern Wake County.

Crit­ics of the deal ar­gued that the money could be bet­ter spent on af­ford­able hous­ing or schools. Some even suggested that the pur­chase was an ef­fort to buy votes from res­i­dents near the planned park. But those com­plaints had no foun­da­tion. Cap­i­tal bud­gets and op­er­at­ing bud­gets are sep­a­rate. It isn’t an ei­ther/or is­sue. Mean­while, there is pop­u­lar sup­port in south­ern Wake for buy­ing the golf course. That the com­mis­sion­ers re­sponded fa­vor­ably wasn’t buy­ing votes, it was democ­racy.

None­the­less, a silly dis­pute has now turned se­ri­ous. On Mon­day, the board will vote on a mo­tion by Com­mis­sioner Greg Ford to de­clare the Crooked Creek land sur­plus prop­erty, sell it and move a pro­posed park in South­east Wake County up to No. 1 on the park pri­or­i­ties list.

A big crowd is ex­pected for the 5 p.m. meet­ing at the Wake County Jus­tice Cen­ter. Most of the peo­ple won’t be there to back the tor­tured logic be­hind Ford’s mo­tion. They’ll be there in sup­port of the ob­vi­ous: The Crooked Creek deal is a great deal for Wake County. But don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the power of re­sent­ments from the pri­maries. A ma­jor­ity of the seven-mem­ber board may de­clare the pur­chase mis­guided and vote to toss the land back on the mar­ket. If that hap­pens, there will be a gen­uine cause for Demo­cratic pri­maries in the next elec­tion. Re­vers­ing the pur­chase would be an act of fi­nan­cial malfea­sance and po­lit­i­cal tone-deaf­ness.

While there’s no jus­ti­fi­able rea­son for aban­don­ing the park, there are plenty of good rea­sons to keep it. The strong­est is that it’s a bar­gain, es­pe­cially in a fast-grow­ing county where open space is dis­ap­pear­ing and land val­ues are ris­ing. When the county can get a big piece of open land, it should take it. It’s crazy to give open space back.

Com­mis­sioner Sig Hutchin­son, a strong ad­vo­cate for green­ways and parks, said, “Never in the his­tory of this county have we sold park land.”

Many peo­ple who live near the for­mer golf course are al­ready go­ing there to ex­er­cise. The park, in that sense, is al­ready in use.

Com­mis­sioner Matt Cal­abria, a backer of the park at Crooked Creek, said, “This isn’t about pro­vid­ing some­thing. It’s about tak­ing away some­thing.”

And if it’s taken away, the county can count on le­gal chal­lenges from nearby res­i­dents. The board should not make a good deal into bro­ken one. It should re­ject Ford’s mo­tion and move on.

BY NED BAR­NETT

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