Planning board members discuss their vision for future of Troutman
BY DEBBIE PAGE
After former Planning and Zoning Board member Jim McNiff's request that each member speak briefly about his or her viewpoint and perspective on the future of Troutman, the board put his request on its agenda at its January meeting. McNiff hoped the exercise would better inform the community of its vision and direction.
LAYTON GETSINGER ON GROWTH
Chairman Layton Getsinger began the discussion by stating that he was one of those folks who moved to Troutman because of its quaint, Southern atmosphere. “It has a lot of charm and is very inviting,” he said.
However, Getsinger noted that “change is inevitable. Had it not been for the recession back in 2007 and 2008, it would probably have already happened.” He added it was “fortuitous” that the boom happened now because “we might have ended up with development that might not have been the kind of development that we needed.”
Getsinger noted that Troutman mostly avoided what happened to some buyers at The Point in Mooresville, who saw their mortgages go quickly under water during the recession. “They got caught in the trap which led to them losing their investment, and the banks had to foreclose,” he said.
Citing lessons from nearby municipalities that have experienced runaway growth, Getsinger said that some communities ended up in a “followship role" rather than a leadership role.
"We can either lead this growth that is coming or we can follow it," he said.
“The Town Council is working diligently through the town staff to come up with plans to figure out how to budget the resources they have available to figure out the best utilization of those resources to accommodate the growth that is coming and best meet the future needs of the town,” added Getsinger.
“There’s a lot of pieces to this puzzle, and we as a planning board have to work with the Town Council and staff to help shape a vision for what that is going to be, even though we do have the 2035 Land Use Plan that guides us, sort of as our Bible, if you will,” said Getsinger.
However, Getsinger believes the land use plan must also be a “living, breathing document that will change” as demographics and demand for services and for various types of homes change.
Getsinger also believes that “no growth is better than bad growth,” but he noted that the town does have a voice and choice in the growth that is inevitably coming.
“Having a good balance of lower-, middle- and upper-income subdivisions or properties that would appeal to a cross representation and demographic will bring people of all stripes to the community to help us create and maintain a diverse population, which should be mixed with attracting commercial and industrial development in the community,” all of which, he noted, should fall into the 2035 Land Use Plan guidelines so unmanaged growth does not contaminate the town’s vision.
Getsinger acknowledged that “there’s a lot of emotion in the community about the growth, about the proposed development that’s coming. I don’t see that getting any less emotional.” However, he assured residents that the planning board will act in the best interests of the community “to try to make Troutman all that it can be.”
He also noted that two board members have property backing up to the 200-acre Colonial Crossing subdivision, so they are also being impacted by the growth. However, they worked with developers to come to a compromise that mitigated negative impacts.
GETSINGER ON TAX BASE AND ETHICS
Getsinger pointed out that the 1,250 homes within the town limits carry the “lion’s share of the burden of the tax onus” for services to meet increasing demands as the ETJ population grows. Getsinger favors strongly encouraging that new ETJ subdivisions be annexed prior to development.
Getting a subdivision annexed prior to development meets much less opposition, even though Getsinger noted there are “very strong arguments” for the benefits for both existing and future subdivisions to have access to town services (police, fire, water, sewer, garbage) in exchange for contributing to its tax base.
The town may also have to start imposing user fees for use of town facilities and amenities for non-residents, Getsinger added, so that the town’s citizens “are not shouldering that burden disproportionately.”
Getsinger also noted that all board members are legally, morally, and ethically bound to recuse themselves from any matter in which they have any kind of financial or personal gain. He also noted that the town attorney is closely involved in all matters and ensures that no conflicts of interest occur. “We come to this with the highest ethical standards and conform to those standards.”
Board member Mike Todd, who moved to Troutman in 2002, has a business in town and lives in the ETJ. “We want balanced growth. I don’t want to be a town of 4,000 homes of the exact same price.”
“The growth is coming, and we just figure out the vision of Troutman, what we want to see it as. We are also members of the community, your neighbors.” He also noted that many only come to meetings when it affects only their back yards, and are not looking at the community’s needs as a whole.
Todd wants to see the franchise-type commercial businesses stay on the interstate side of town and preserve the traditional “mom and pop” business district downtown.
“I think that’s how we keep our identity,” he said.
Noting he was born in Troutman and has seen a lot of growth over the years, board member Kenneth Reid said, “I take this very seriously being on the board, being involved and understanding a cross-section of the city and everybody involved in it.”
Reid expressed his deep feelings for his hometown. “I see the value of this city, I see the love in this city.” He noted that “no city is greater than its citizens, and no citizen is greater than the city. We are all in the same boat.”
Reid wants to see Troutman grow in a positive way, as do fellow board members, whom he respects and with whom he feels in harmony in doing what will most benefit Troutman.
After his retirement, board member George Harris moved to Troutman two and a half years ago to be near his grandchildren. He also lived in Barium Springs as a child, never dreaming he would return here one day.
Always active in his community, Harris also wanted to serve Troutman when he arrived here. He wants to manage growth in a responsible way and not harm the people here personally or financially.
Harris always drives through areas under board consideration and consults frequently with Town Planner Erika Martin to help him make the most informed decisions.
KAREN VAN VLIET
Board member Karen Van Vliet moved to the area in 2006 after 22 years in the military. “This was the place that most felt like home to us,” she said.
Though they originally lived in the ETJ, they moved into the town five years ago to have the walkability advantages that it offers. “We love the greenway and park. We like the atmosphere that’s here.”
Having lived all over the world, Van Vliet acknowledges that change is inevitable whereever one lives. She joined the board to “help manage that change and to make the right choices that will fit this town.
“This town has a unique flavor, a unique feel to it. It is a family town, and it is deeply rooted in community. That’s one of the things we love about it.”
She also loves the architecture downtown and hopes that it is preserved rather than “tearing down those existing pieces of history that help help define who we are in this little town of Troutman.”
Instead of franchises, Van Vliet hopes the downtown attracts mom and pop antique shops, boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants “that expand upon the flavor of what makes this town so unique.”
She also wants to take advantage of the proximity of the state park to help Troutman grow.
Board member Randy Farmer is a fifth-generation resident of Troutman. He wants to keep the small town feel of Troutman by carefully planning and controlling residential growth to include a wide variety of housing options, lot sizes, and price points. He also hopes that they can attract housing that is not the typical subdivision type.
Farmer also wants to recruit low-impact businesses and industry to Troutman to increase the tax base and support a healthy economy. He also supports the location of big box businesses at Exit 42, with downtown focusing on small business development.
He also wants to assure ETJ residents that they have a voice in town decisions and that the board will act in ways to protect the special rural, natural, and environmental areas that surround the town.
“I want to help Troutman be a unique small town and thriving business community with good neighborhoods, rural areas, agriculture, and recreation. If the Planning and Zoning Board, along with the Town Council, continues to work together using the plans we have in place and improve them as we grow, I believe we can make Troutman the best small town in the state,” concluded Farmer.
McNiff addressed the board after their comments, apologizing for the apathy of residents and those in the ETJ who ignore the board’s proceedings unless an issue “comes to their front porch.”
McNiff also suggested that the members’ views be transcribed and given to developers and business representatives seeking to build in Troutman to clearly communicate the town’s vision and decision-making process.