MONCURE — Lisa Palmer, like many of her neighbors, grew up in Moncure and has lived there all her life.
Now, at 71 years old, she fears for the future of her beloved community, and the land she grew up on.
“How am I going to pay my taxes?” she said. “I don’t want to pass away anywhere except my home.”
Her home holds the memories of her loved ones — holiday dinners with her parents, after-school playdates with friends and bringing her son home for the first time.
But Moncure is on the fast track to change.
It’s a fear felt by many in the area as threats of development loom large. The once close-knit rural town faces an uncertain future due to economic development opportunities.
Namely, VinFast, which is planning a more than 1,700-acre electric-car manufacturing facility at Triangle Innovation Point in Moncure. The company plans to invest more than $4 billion and create 7,500 jobs at the site.
Along with the facility, N.C. Dept. of Transportation has provided plans that show the state taking 27 homes, five businesses and Merry Oaks Baptist Church to make way for roadway improvements through eminent domain. Those plans will also take pieces of property of several more residents.
“It’s like having your heart ripped out,” Palmer said. “This is about more than just me, this is my town. It hurts. It’s like seeing the death coming.”
Palmer voiced her concerns along with dozens of Moncure residents Tuesday at a community engagement session held at Moncure School for the small area plan hosted by county staff and consultants.
The evening took place in two parts: one-on-one feedback sessions with consultants and county staff for residents to ask questions and provide feedback on specific issues; then a presentation from consultants about the current status of the small area plan and next steps.
Plan Moncure, the small area plan created to address development related to VinFast and other potential adjacent investments, has entered its second phase. Last Tuesday’s community engagement session aimed to gather feedback from residents about what they want the future of Moncure to look like as developments unfold.
The lead consultant on the project is White & Smith LLC, which contracted with the town to help develop the Unified Development Ordinance, Recode Chatham. Plan Moncure is a project under the Recode Chatham umbrella.
The consultant team gave a presentation to attendees last Tuesday about the existing conditions within Moncure and some of the guiding questions the team is using for the next steps of the plan.
Phase one of the project focused on understanding the existing conditions of the community through data and demographic research. This includes things like population growth projections, transportation impacts, stormwater management changes and more.
The second phase, focused on community engagement, looks to understand land use, important historic and cultural sites, infrastructure needs and environmental concerns.
At the Chatham County Board of Commissioners meeting in February, where White & Smith shared a similar presentation to the one given to residents, the consultants said they’re on track to present a final draft of recommendations to commissioners by July.
“We wanted our response to VinFast to be deliberate and well-informed,” said Tyson Smith, land use attorney and mediator for White & Smith. “There’s a lot of things we can’t control, but to the extent we can control things, we want to hear from the community about what they want it to look like.”
Smith said that includes feedback on issues like zoning, subdivision rules and environmental regulations.
Designing the small area plan was triggered as soon as VinFast announced they would be located in Moncure last March. A condition in the 2017 UDO, Plan Chatham, said that once a tenant was found for Triangle Innovation Point in Moncure, a small area plan would be designed.
While the goal of the event was to gather community input, some Moncure residents felt frustrated by the event. Kay Hinsley, a Moncure resident who lives near Merry Oaks Baptist Church, called Tuesday’s meeting “a waste of time.” She said the presentation from White & Smith did not leave ample time for questions from the audience.
“This community has been ignored for years,” she said, standing up in front of the crowd of more than 50 residents before the conclusion of the presentation. “Spend your time trying to learn how to make us an equal part of Chatham County.”
Hinsley was frustrated because attendees at the presentation were encouraged to write their questions on notecards, rather than ask them aloud in the community forum. Consultants said written comments and questions will be recorded and synthesized throughout the next steps of the project.
“This tells us nothing,” Hinsley told the News + Record after the presentation. “They say this about gathering input, but they don’t really want it.”
She said she’d like to see amenities like parks, libraries or grocery stores brought to Moncure so people don’t have to commute as far for work and recreation.
Other residents, including Palmer, expressed skepticism that VinFast would make it to Moncure at all. Recently, the company announced it would delay the rollout of vehicles until 2025. Company executives and local officials have assured the public plans for the facility are still happening.
Three VinFast sales executives have also announced they are leaving the company. The company also said it was changing the pricing plan on its vehicles, and stock prices show a bearish market for the EV manufacturer.
Each announcement stokes further skepticism from the residents in Moncure.
Still, for Palmer at least, the meeting wasn’t a total wash. She walked to the various tables, meeting with county staff and expressing concern that her property would be taken due to development. Kimberly Tyson, subdivision administrator with the Chatham County Planning Department, assured her, however, that this was not the case.
“Just say no,” Tyson told Palmer. “You don’t have to sell your property if you don’t want to.”
Palmer said she appreciated the work of the consultants and staff to gather feedback. She said the interaction with Tyson made her day.
Her concerns over the future of her town, however, remain. She said she worries that despite the community’s best efforts, the current community is going to be priced out of Moncure.
“Growing up, I was babysat by all of Moncure,” she said. “But I worry the essence of the people I knew growing up and know now will be destroyed. I have to stand up for this town.”
For more information about the small area plan visit www.recodechathamnc.org/planmoncure.
Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @b_rappaport
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