GARNER — This recently dubbed “All-America” city is poised for a renewed influx of residents and businesses, but should make sure that coming changes amount to “smart” growth, government and business leaders said at an Aug.22 meeting of the town’s growth-strategies task force.
Mayor Ronnie Williams and Town Manager Hardin Watkins kept the conversation lively among the more than two dozen people gathered at the town’s White Deer Nature Center. With the goal of a late October presentation to the town council in mind, attendees said the task force’s priorities should include the areas of marketing, schools, town policies and land availability.
Discussion of marketing centered on Garner’s position as a town that residents love, but outsiders may never try because it’s sometimes seen as a less attractive southern region of Raleigh.
“I want to try to figure out the huge disconnect between all of us, who think Garner is wonderful, and the rest of the world that just won’t come down,” said participant Carol Sims.
But residents found cheer in the recent opening of the WakeMed facility in Garner, and called for more small- and big-picture business development to accompany expected residential growth.
“We want a healthy mix,” said veteran businessman Vic Bell. “We’ve got to be smart about the way we do it. We’ve got to have all these uses feeding off each other.”
The image of Garner’s schools came up often in discussing how to make the town a bigger draw, and not just the Wake County schools, which educate most of the town’s children. Garner would get a new high school to relieve overcrowding under a proposed bond issue that will come before voters in October. Some participants suggested that additional private and charter schools would also make Garner more attractive.
“Private schools is probably the only thing we can do,” said Tom Teabo, chair of Garner’s board of adjustment, referring to town government’s limited role in county schools.
Other participants suggested creating a liaison between the town and the school system to make sure Garner’s interests are well-represented. Businesswoman Jessica Lamb suggested that the task force itself could benefit from more input from the town’s increasingly multi-ethnic population.
“I’m not seeing the diversity that is Garner at this table,” Lamb said.
Builders, developers and real estate agents at the meeting questioned the timing of fees Garner now charges on the front end of construction. Civil engineer Keith Roberts used as an example a potential developer of a 90-home subdivision who would face major early-stage fees for building permits, sewer connections and other infrastructure.
“This developer has to fork over a million dollars in fees before you can break ground and most people cannot do that,” Roberts said.
Another concern widely expressed was that of finding available land in Garner. Town planning director Bryan Bass said the best bets for new development are infill in existing neighborhoods, as well as the areas east of N.C. 50 near White Oak Road and another region northeast of Garne that is within its extra-territorial jurisdiction.
Scott Hadley, a broker with NAI Carolantic Realty, predicted that Garner will benefit from the continued expansion and rising prices for land and houses in western Wake. And Paul Capps, with Fonville Morrisey, said the town just needs to spread the good news that residents already embrace.
“The bottom line is when we get them here they fall in love with Garner,” Capps said.