Developers and local owners scrap over Heart of the Triad

by Jordan Green

In the run-up to Greensboro’s municipal election, the fate of the Heart of the Triad initiative has been only one of the many issues that have been overlooked by the city’s apathetic electorate. And facing stiff opposition from residents of the rural area straddling the Guilford-Forsyth county line, the initiative has languished.

Robbie Perkins, a Greensboro realtor who co-chairs the Heart of the Triad Steering Committee, survived the primary election and appears positioned to sail through the general election in November to reclaim a seat on the Greensboro City Council. And proponents such as his co-chair, Kernersville realtor Arnold King, express determination to forge ahead while local residents remain adamant in their opposition.

The two sides squared off in Greensboro on Oct. 16 during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad.

“Yeah, we’ve made some mistakes,” said Brent McKinney, a member of the initiative’s technical committee and executive director of the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation, an agency that has funneled state funds to Heart of the Triad. “As we go forward – and we haven’t gone far – we’re going to come up with a plan to include more citizen input.”

Among its champions, the vision for the Heart of the Triad remains a muddle of rationales for economic development and calls to improve air quality and reduce congestion. They insist that without planning, the area will evolve into a hodgepodge of warehouses and trophy houses in classic sprawl fashion.

Proponents are quick to point out that Guilford and Forsyth counties retain rezoning authority, and planning for the new roads expected to quarter the targeted land area will proceed under the authority of at least three different transportation advisory committees regardless of how Heart of the Triad fares. What power the nascent planning organization will have remains unclear.

But the presence of two realtors – Perkins and King – at the helm of the initiative, and the inclusion of corporate funders Time Warner, BB&T, Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas on the steering committee, has created distrust among the farmers and homeowners who have dug in their heels in opposition.

King and McKinney, speaking for the proponents, covered opposite ends of the field in the rhetorical discourse refereed by the League of Women Voters.

“There’s going to have to be another road through the Heart of the Triad, folks,” King said. “Otherwise, we’re going to choke down economic development.”

McKinney took the environmentalist tack.

“The longer we commute the more fuel we consume, the more we pollute the air, the more time we expose ourselves to accidents, and we want to minimize that,” he said. “One owner will have warehouses. One owner will have nice houses. And we’ll have a hodgepodge. We’ll spend more time commuting. All the things I’ve ever known that were good came from a good plan.”

The two argued that the Heart of the Triad initiative would accomplish the conservation goals that the opponents embrace by preserving 30 to 34 percent of the land to protect critical watersheds and natural open space.

“If the proponents of the Heart of the Triad plan were really serious about controlling growth, there are legal instruments such as conservation easements to accomplish that,” argued Joe McDonald, president of the NC Alliance for Transportation Reform. “Why didn’t they mount a massive campaign to induce landowners to take out conservation easements where they could sell their land or bequeath it to their heirs, but its current use would be preserved in perpetuity?”

Cathy Poole, who lives in rural Guilford County, said the Heart of the Triad plan shows an intellectual assets center being located in her horse pasture. The plan as it currently stands, she suggested, endangers other assets that are important to the greater urban area that comprises the Triad.

“Guilford and Forsyth counties are down to the single digits in dairy farms,” she said. “We have to protect our farms. We cannot continue to rely on imported food. Let’s promote the slow foods program. Most of the fine restaurants buy their produce locally. Jimmy Morgan sells his produce at the local farmers market.”

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