02/18/09 — 'Not in our town': Rosewood questions housing plan

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'Not in our town': Rosewood questions housing plan

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 18, 2009 1:46 PM

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Residents listen to the debate.

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Jimmy Thompson signs a petition to halt plans for a development of 36 units of low-income housing in the community. The construction is planned for a plot of land on U.S. 70 behind the Second Fling Consignment Shop. More than 200 Rosewood community residents voiced their concerns or showed up to listen Tuesday night.

Some were worried about a potential increase in crime.

Others feared their homes might lose value.

And there was even concern voiced that law enforcement and firefighters would be spread too thin.

Their reasons were different, but the several hundred residents who gathered in the Rosewood High School cafeteria Tuesday evening had the same message for developer John Bell and members of the Wayne County Planning Board currently weighing the option of allowing him to construct a low-income housing project just off U.S. 70 behind the Second Fling Consignment Shop.

"Not in our town."

But the meeting was not simply a chance to air out concerns regarding Bell's proposed 36-unit development, Rosewood Townes.

Organizers also took the time to spell out their objections in the form of a petition -- one that by night's end, was signed by most of those in attendance.

Joseph Hackett took the lead, explaining to his neighbors that Bell's proposal would create "undue hardship and burdens on our county, city, communities, towns, school districts and families."

The impact such a development would have on schools was the first item he addressed.

An influx of students -- potentially in the hundreds -- was one of them.

"I think we all can figure out what that is going to do to the education of our children," he said.

"It's going to hurt it," a woman in the crowd replied.

"The schools are already overcrowded," another shouted.

Hackett agreed.

He said an overcrowded school system contributes to a decrease in state End of Grade Test results, ABC Results, and Federal Adequate Yearly Progress results.

And Rosewood Elementary School already exceeds the state's recommended class sizes, he added.

But the education of Rosewood community children was not the only point of concern expressed in the petition.

Their safety was another.

Hackett cited statistics he said indicates low-income housing breeds crime.

And he compared the proposed development to Myrtle Place, a "similar" area associated with drugs and violent crime.

"In my opinion, that's comparing apples to apples," he said.

Wayne County Sheriff's Lt. Sherwood Daly knows Myrtle Place well.

"I can tell you firsthand, there are not many weekends when we're not called out there," he said.

Those in the crowd grew more restless.

"Wouldn't this lower people's home values?" a woman shouted.

"I have spoken to Realtors and I've been informed that we could take a pretty big hit," Bell replied.

Another resident raised her hand.

She said she lives in the Camden Park area, not far from the proposed development, and has seen what would happen to property value in the area if the housing is built.

"We're trying to sell our house right now," she said. "And we have had people walk away just on the hint of something like this."

Another woman agreed.

She, too, lives in Camden Park and said the development would create an eyesore in an otherwise nice area.

"This will be out my door. I look out back now and see a cotton field," she said. "I don't want to look at project housing."

The issue of resources also is included in the petition.

More law enforcement would be needed if low-income housing is constructed, it contends.

And the volunteer fire department would be spread too thin.

"It seems to me like this is going to be pretty costly," one man muttered.

But the underlying issue for many was the fact that ultimately, the residents of Rosewood don't have a legal say in zoning issues.

In fact, there is no zoning in the area.

And many feel as though Bell is simply taking advantage of that.

"John has already presented this in Goldsboro. Goldsboro turned him down," Hackett said, adding that the town of Mount Olive also denied Bell's request to build a low-income development. "What's happening here is now, he is coming out in the county ... because that land isn't zoned. They didn't want it, and, well, we don't want it either."

So they will take their case -- and petition -- to the Wayne County Planning Commission at its March 4 meeting -- hoping filling a board room with concerned residents might be enough to halt a development they fear will "destroy" their community.

"We want to get this petition signed so we can have our voices heard," Hackett said. "And let our elected officials know what their constituents feel about all this."

Those who wish to sign the petition can find it online at http://www.gopetition.com/online/25248.html

But signing it, Hackett said, does not make a person any less sensitive to the needy.

"This is not about poor versus rich. We didn't say, 'No low-income people in Rosewood,'" he said. "This is about our objection to the low-income rental property itself."