Harrisburg's rapid growth brings challenges

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Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2013 8:35 am

HARRISBURG, N.C. — Bill Carriker’s family has lived at their home place on Hickory Ridge Road for six generations. Bill and his wife Laura have lived in the same home there since 1975, overlooking a quiet area of rural land and enjoying the peaceful countryside.

They’d like it to stay that way.

But now, the couple fears the land across the street from their home could be stripped and replaced with a 322-home subdivision.

Harrisburg is one of the fastest-growing communities in the state, and that growth doesn’t sit well many longtime residents.

“There’s a conflict between rural people and city people in general, and that is they don’t understand each other’s feelings about land,” Carriker said. “We love our land. It’s been in our family all these generations. Many people only attach a value in terms of dollars to land. If that was us we’d have been gone a long time ago. But there’s a conflict right there between people that don’t understand attachment to land and people that do.”

Carriker said that conflict is only going to continue to grow.

Culture clash

The Harrisburg land rush – and the town’s changing demographics -- is at the heart of the conflict.

“… The new people (are) bringing what they left behind, and we natives are in such low numbers now, we really have no power to counter it,” Carriker said. “There has been a tremendous influx of people from other areas, not just the state but the country … a lot of them from the Northeast.

“These people live in areas not much different than what we are getting ready to see — single houses very close together,” he said. “I don’t think they understand why we don’t like it, because it’s normal to them.”

It’s a conflict members of Harrisburg Town Council are working to resolve.

“You have to realize that there are private property rights and you don’t want big government coming down on you, but at the same time you have to balance that with the community,” said Brian Leepard, Harrisburg town council member.

While town officials try to balance property rights for developers as well as trying to maintain what the community wants, they face more pressure from developers who see opportunity in Harrisburg. In 2000, the census had Harrisburg’s population at 4,493 people. Now, officials figure they have about 13,000 residents.

“We’re up to 13,000 people and people still talk about the small-town feel,” said Josh Watkins, Harrisburg planning director. “It’s less about how many homes you have in your community and more about that state of mind.”

But residents have conflicting views of how Harrisburg should grow, with some people wanting smaller lots to maintain and others wanting open space.

Bill Carriker has lived on the family home place since 1949. The property has been in his family since 1900. There have now been six generations to live on the property in the rural area on Hickory Ridge Road. And while he knows Harrisburg has to grow and develop, he does not feel his community is the place for such a large subdivision.

A matter of density

Officials say the development — proposed by MI/Homes of Charlotte, LLC — could allow for the subdivision to be built and still leave plenty of open land. MI/Homes developers want to build a 322 home development on 225 acres of land at the southeast quadrant of Rocky River Road/Hickory Ridge Road intersection.

They plan to leave 104 acres of the property as open space and build their sidewalks, amenities and homes on the remaining 121 acres of land. Because the 322 homes would be on a 225 acre piece of land, the home density would officially be 1.43 units per acre. But residents say that is not a true perception, arguing the homes will ultimately end up being on quarter acre lots if approved.

The Harrisburg Town Council discussed the project in March and told MI/Homes to come back with a plan where the homes were on at least a third of an acre of land.

Regardless, Carriker and others feel the development just doesn’t fit.

“I don’t care how much open land you leave, when you go and clear cut one hundred plus acres and put houses in there like that, that’s high density in my opinion,” he said. “I don’t even think it’s a civilized way of living. People say they want that, they don’t want a yard to maintain.”

And there is the conflict facing officials as they try to plan the growth for Harrisburg’s development — maintaining a balancing act between people’s property rights and trying to satisfy new residents as well as Harrisburg natives, like Carriker.

Leepard was one of the council members who pushed MI/Homes to come back with a plan that had bigger lot sizes, with each home on a third of an acre.

“We can only control so much,” Leepard said. “We have certain things we can control and certain things we can’t control. We can’t tell a developer he can’t come here and build. You just can’t do that. They do have to fit our zoning.”

One thing they can control is zoning for the lot sizes.

For instance, the property MI/Homes is currently eyeing for development could go several different ways. They are currently trying to get the property to be rezoned to allow for the cluster development that would allow them to put the 322 homes on the 121 acres.

But the current zoning would allow them to go in today and build one home per acre, allowing for 225 homes, but gobbling up the open land they propose to save.

“It’s a very touchy subject, because typically when people say low density they mean big lots. But when you do the big-lot subdivisions they’re not required to leave much open space,” said Josh Watkins, Harrisburg planning director.

“It’s a balancing act. So, if we can get the total number of units down and provide a lot of open space, the density is low and the open space is provided. The tradeoff is the lots are going to be smaller and closer together.”

Contact Michael Knox at 704-789-9133.

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