Managing growth in classic small town can be ‘messy’

Davidson seems to get the mix of community preservation and economic development right

By Erica Batten. Is Davidson’s small-town charm at risk? Mayor John Woods projected that Davidson’s current population of roughly 12,000 will double in the next four decades, consistent with the rest of Mecklenburg County

“Our greatest challenge is managing the effects of change while protecting our small-town character,” Woods said.

The consequence of getting it very nearly right—small-town charm and landing MSC Industrial and Valspar— is more growth is heading Davidson’s way.

Development is happening at several nodes around this college town. Near Exit 30 on I-77, the Williams Place retirement community just opened. The proposed Davidson Commons East Hotel along Griffith Street, if approved, will add a six-story hotel with a rooftop restaurant, and The Linden-Jetton Street Apartments development just south of Jetton Circle includes 164 residential units and approximately 5,000 square feet of retail space.

How Davidson got it right

  • Preserve Davidson’s character and sense of community.
  • Encourage alternative means of active transportation.
  • Use our scarce land resources wisely.
  • Create an environment that fosters diversity.
  • Manage growth so the town can provide public facilities and services apace with development.
  • Enhance our quality of life through architecture and design.

—Source: Davidson Rural Area Plan, 2016

Meanwhile the NC Department of Transportation will be working to replace the Griffith Street bridge at exit 30 and install two roundabouts as well as pedestrian and bicycle lanes. NCDOT is also working on a project connecting Potts and Sloan Streets to create a loop roughly parallel to Main Street.

“Many residents that live in close proximity to Exit 30 are concerned,” said Rusty Knox, a lifelong Davidson resident whose father was mayor for many years. Indeed, he is planning to run for mayor this year. “They feel uncertain about the future development that will continue in this critical corridor.”

Last year, concerns over the Downtown Catalyst Study, which proposed more development around Main Street, prompted Knox to start Paradise Lost, a lively Facebook forum where citizens could post updates on town projects and private development. The town has since shifted away from private investment around the painfully small Town Hall toward improvements to municipal facilities and parking.

Forty-five percent of Davidson’s jurisdiction is a Rural Planning Area.

The town recently completed its rural area plan for the nearly 4,000 acres between its corporate limits and the Iredell and Cabarrus County lines. An open house Jan. 5 to inform citizens about the plan’s recommendations. East of downtown, several large developments are set to have the greatest impact on Davidson’s population. Lennar Carolinas LLC’s West Branch development on Davidson-Concord Road would add more than 300 residential units. The Summer’s Walk development, also along Hwy. 73, has added more than 500 residential units to the town’s landscape. The proposed Washam Neighborhood along June Washam Road would add another 80 units.

While Davidson and its Charlotte-region neighbors can’t stem the tide of in-migration, Davidson has taken steps to proactively manage growth. Starting with the General Plan in 1993, when the town’s population was under 5,000, Davidson’s smart-growth initiatives have helped to preserve its bike and pedestrian culture, open spaces, design continuity and affordability. The planning ordinance has been updated to develop Davidson in the more thoughtful way for which it has become so popular.

In fact, it’s a destination for people who want a more intentionally planned and sustainable community.

“Growth is always a challenge, particularly with many passionate voices. It can be a messy business.”

—Kathleen Rose

But Davidson, where the average home costs $266,500 according to Trulia, runs the risk of becoming unattainable for many, including those who grew up or work there. That’s the challenge for communities that have planned—they become unaffordable. It’s becoming a destination for Baby Boomers. Davidson College alumnae are also retiring here, some of them paying cash, sight unseen, for homes.

The town’s affordable housing plan ensures that 12.5 percent of new development be reserved for applicants whose income is under a prescribed percentage of Mecklenburg County’s median income. The goal is to ensure that people who work in Davidson—no matter their occupation—can also afford to live there.

While smart growth has helped to maintain the town’s aesthetic integrity, its sense of community is what continues to attract newcomers. Citizens are involved in signature events like Christmas in Davidson, the three-day showcase at the beginning of each December where townsfolk and visitors swarm Main Street for roving carolers, horse-and-buggy rides, holiday refreshments, fun contests and music.

In warm weather, the Concerts on the Green series is a giant town picnic with the band on the library steps and dozens of blankets dotting the lawn.

The concern, though, is maintaining the quality of life as Davidson continues to grow.

The town is currently embarking on initiatives to maintain its aesthetic and quality of life. Such initiatives include the Town Hall Center project, which has been scaled down to public facilities from the previous large “Catalyst Project.” The town is updating its planning ordinance, as well as its economic development strategic plan.

Kathleeen Rose of Rose & Associates, who helped develop the economic development plan in 2012, said the strategic plan was driven by guiding principles consistent with the town’s vision and the 2016-2017 “Davidson Game Plan,” developed by Board of Commissioners.

It considers commercial growth limited to specific targeted areas to provide goods and services to its growing population, while balancing tax base and maintaining quality of life,” she said.

“Growth is always a challenge, particularly with many passionate voices. It can be a messy business,” Rose said.


One Response to “Managing growth in classic small town can be ‘messy’”

  1. Davidson lost it’s soul when it approved that monstrosity adjacent/across from Harris Teeter– in my humble opinion.

    Posted by John Blakely | January 18, 2017, 10:56 am

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