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Town with a future? Maiden candidates sound off on housing development, growth
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ELECTION 2021

Town with a future? Maiden candidates sound off on housing development, growth

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The issues of housing and development have been prominent part of the public discourse in Maiden this year. Several new houses are being built in the town.

Maiden’s motto, “Town with a future,” is proudly displayed on the official website. But what exactly does the future hold for the town of 3,700 residents?

More people, for one thing.

In June, the town council voted to give Cornelius-based Prestige Corporate Development the go-ahead to construct a 250-unit housing project. The development is slated to be built over the next six years on land that is accessible to Business U.S. 321 via JW Abernathy Plant Road and GKN Way.

The town council rejected plans for 349 homes at the site in March but approved plans when the developer decreased the number of houses to 250 and widened the lots. The vote was unanimous. Mayor Max Bumgarner did not vote since there was no tie.

Public meetings related to the development were contentious, with the overwhelming majority of those who spoke voicing opposition to the project because of fears it would strain town resources and destroy Maiden’s small-town feel.

When it comes to population in Maiden, it’s not just the number of people but the ages of those people that may present problems for Maiden going forward.

Like other communities in the Hickory area, Maiden has seen its working age population shrink.

A decade ago, the number of people ages 16 to 64 in Maiden was nearly 2,200 and the age group made up nearly two-thirds of the town’s population, according to 2010 census data provided by the Western Piedmont Council of Governments.

Based on more recent census data from between 2015 and 2019, the number of people in that age cohort had fallen to just above 2,000, making up less than 60% of the town population. Maiden Town Manager Todd Herms said the demographic trend is a concern for the community.

All eight candidates vying for the three open at-large seats on the Maiden Town Council recently shared their thoughts on the 250-unit housing development as well as the issues of growth and development in the town.

Incumbents explain their position

For Councilman Ronnie Williams, 73, the decision to allow the development came down to the need to fill the roughly 10,000 open jobs in the county. Companies all over are looking for people to fill their jobs and the development seemed like a good opportunity to help meet those needs, Williams said.

He said he also sees the development as a way to ensure Maiden is not left out of the growth that is likely to follow the completion of major road projects. “Highway 16 is going to explode eastern Catawba County and Maiden sits in eastern Catawba County,” Williams said. “We have got to be prepared in order to accept that growth or we’re going to be left out.”

During the hearings on the housing proposals, Williams pushed back on claims the town lacked the public resources necessary for the influx of new homes and people.

Town Manager Herms said at the time that the town has sufficient water capacity to supply the development and that existing emergency services can handle the initial phases of development.

Data on school enrollment indicates there is room to grow there, as well.

Councilwoman Trina Michael, 67, said she supported the development as a way of addressing workforce issues.

As far as concerns raised by residents, Michael noted there had also been people who spoke in favor, particularly at the last meeting where the development was approved. She also said she heard privately from people who supported but did not want to speak publicly. “I do appreciate the opposition but I also feel that a town that does not grow can be stagnant,” Michael said. “You’ve got to have growth and I thought this was a perfect opportunity. They came down on the size of the development, which was a real issue for me.”

She added that the development represents “a first step for us as far as this type of growth” and the town would have to take a disciplined approach and continue monitoring the effect developments are having on the town. “I think it’s got to be very calculated and we have to be willing to accept that there is a limit to that growth,” Michael said.

Councilman Danny Hipps, 53, echoed Williams’ and Michael’s thoughts about the need for housing to grow the workforce but he also said he supported the development because it seemed like the best use for the property when compared to other possibilities.

“So nobody really talks about those options but it could have been turned into an industrial park, it could have been a lot of other options out there,” Hipps said. “Out of all those options, to me the housing development made the most sense, not necessarily for that neighbor that lives right beside it but the overall, looking at the bigger picture for the town of Maiden as a whole.”

Another reason Hipps supported the development was the effect on utilities.

Having the housing development hooked to town utilities would help the city use its systems more efficiently and keep rates low, particularly in light of the fact that current water and electricity use is driven by a few large companies in town, Hipps said.

Hipps said he sympathized with the concerns of residents who lived near the development site, particularly when it comes to traffic.

While the N.C. Department of Transportation has indicated there is no need for a light there just yet, the town can continue to work with the DOT to ensure traffic in the area is managed effectively while also implementing traffic-calming measures like increased coverage from law enforcement, Hipps said. He also said that traffic was going to be an issue even if something other than a housing development had gone on the land.

In terms of growth in general, Hipps said he supports keeping Maiden on a steady, manageable growth path that allows the town to add more attractions to keep money in the community.

“I think that we do have to be careful not to grow too fast but I will tell you the No. 1 request that I get as a council person is, we need some amenities,” Hipps said. “We want better places to eat. We want more recreation spots for our kids. We want those kind of things and my hope would be that we can have enough growth that we can revitalize our downtown area and add development into the downtown area where we could be successful like some other neighboring towns have been.”

Challengers’ perspectives

Of the five candidates running to unseat the incumbents, four — Danny Lee Kiser, Holly Crafton-Lay, Richard Fox and Cameron Ramseur — have said they would have voted against the housing project had they been on the council.

While Maiden needs to grow, Kiser, 62, said, this type of development is wrong for Maiden because of the density. He said he is skeptical the new residents at the development would contribute much to the town, saying they were more likely to spend their money elsewhere.

Kiser was also critical of the way the council approached the matter, saying it seemed they had their minds made up and did not adequately take comments from the public into account. “That was rude,” he said. “I can tell you: When I get on council, my mind is not going to be made up on any issue until I exhaust every effort to hear everything pro or con about it. You know, I’ve got my own ideas about a lot of things but you’ve got to realize this ain’t just my town.”

Kiser said he could have been persuaded to vote for it if the developer had decreased the density.

The developers have said they could only decrease the density so much for the project to be economical for them. “Well golly darn, it’s low down on my priority to make sure he makes money,” Kiser said. “I don’t even know if that’s one of my concerns … because somebody will develop that land if he don’t (and will do it) the way that we want it. He’s not the only developer in this country. So we’ll get what we want if we wait, if we shop around.”

He said he considers one-third acre lots to be a good fit for most of Maiden and pointed to the Sherwood Forest development as a type he considers appropriate.

Crafton-Lay, 42, said she would have voted against the project and believed the town was bringing too many people into the community without first creating businesses to support that growth. With smaller-scale growth, the town would have an opportunity to build up the number of shops and businesses so that money from new residents would stay in the town and not be spent in neighboring communities, she said.

Crafton-Lay said the town could focus on bringing in businesses by setting up incentive and grant programs to help get businesses started.

Crafton-Lay spoke positively of the changes that are going on in the downtowns of places like Newton and cited their approach as a model for Maiden.

“These other towns are enticing small businesses. They’re enticing people to set up shop, open restaurants and things and then the development just kind of naturally has somewhere to go,” she said. “To me, Maiden got it backwards. ‘Let’s bring in a whole of bunch of people.’ Oh, now we’re behind the eight ball. We need to bring some other things to this town.”

Fox, 53, said there was nothing the developer could have done to get him to support the project, adding that the council should have waited until after the election before taking the vote.

He derided the proposed units as “cracker-box homes” that were out of place in Maiden. “I will be watching this like a hawk and keep the developers at their word of what they are going to provide,” Fox said. “I have a strong feeling that Maiden is going to end up on the wrong side of this deal.”

Ramseur, 32, said he would have voted against the project in part because he thought the developers should have worked more with neighboring residents to resolve disputes. “I feel like if it would have been discussed a little better with the community, I think some things could have been resolved a little bit different than what it was,” Ramseur said.

Ramseur’s concerns about the development include the increased traffic and the safety of residents in the area. In terms of development in general, Ramseur said he wanted to see more small businesses and family-owned businesses to serve as draws to the city’s downtown.

He suggested the town council could sit down with business leaders to work out some arrangements to bring those types of businesses in a way that would benefit the property owners and the community.

Another candidate, George McClellan, 81, said he does not know how he would have voted on the project because he did not know the details. McClellan sees growth as something Maiden should embrace. He is also not bothered by the prospect of younger people seeking smaller lot sizes for homes.

Unlike some in the community, McClellan also is not concerned that transplants from places like Charlotte will be bad for Maiden.

“Did you ever think about those people were moving out of Charlotte because they didn’t want what was going on and they want to come up here to a small town?” McClellan said, recalling his response to a person who opposed people from the city coming to Maiden.

“I don’t think that you can stand still anymore,” McClellan said. “You know, yeah it’s nice to have a small town. I love this little town. I’d do anything I can for it but you can’t stand still. You either go frontwards or you go backwards.”

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