As the years pass, the colors in the Disney movie “Pollyanna” seem to fade, but my memories of the spunky optimist and her message are still vibrant. Pollyanna, played by Hayley Mills, came to live with her aunt in a community that was stuck in its small town ways. Because she knew no better, Pollyanna asked questions, explored, and changed the cloud that hung over the town with its dour nature into well, pure sunshine.
I remember watching the movie with delight that a young child could have such a positive impact on others and could see the good in people when they got in their own way.
Perhaps that’s why I initially ran for election. After all, isn’t that what public service is? Doing for others?
At 52, I suppose I am still a Pollyanna. I still believe that most people want the best for their community. I still believe that many (not most) people run for office to make positive change. And like Pollyanna, sometimes I fall prey to my own naivete.
Yesterday, I spent the day in our state capital, speaking against a bill that would take local authority away with regard to building design authority. Without going into the massive amount of details, it seems that a few towns irritated the homebuilder’s associations when they started commenting on paint color or brick choices of homes to be built. The associations marched to Raleigh and complained — with their checkbooks — and suddenly, there is a bill proposed that would limit all of the municipalities. A cookie cutter approach, ignoring all the progress some towns, like Huntersville, have made with regard to developer relations.
Let me give you an example: In the decade between 1990 and 2000, Huntersville grew 728% with much of the growth in the latter half of the decade. In 1994-1995, the Town had a moratorium on any new building. From 1995 on, the Town had a new subdivision zoning ordinance, one that was unique for the State. Our ordinance gave developers opportunities for flexibility in building in exchange for some design controls. For instance, Huntersville didn’t restrict lot sizes in certain zoning districts, but required builders NOT have garages that came in front of houses and into the front yards. Why? Because of the value of the streetscape, the importance of the feeling of community (people talking to each other in the front yards — can’t do that when a garage is in the way), and creating a quality vision for the town.
Over the past 17 years, Huntersville’s growth has never stopped. It did slow, during the recession, but didn’t stop, as it did in many towns. I’d contend that it is because our vision and ability to give developers flexibility created a positive selling market.
Incidentally, our zoning ordinance encourages affordable housing. We in Huntersville believe that a successful community is one that has all types of demographics, and it is our job to offer housing to support those demographics.
But somehow, The STATE Knows Best. Better than the citizens who created the zoning ordinance. Better than the planning departments and local elected officials.
Our planning director and I spent nearly two hours with the president of a local homebuilder’s association, explaining how our ordinance actually supports his group’s needs. And he agreed. He understood that we “get it” and suggested that perhaps we ask our state reps to exempt Huntersville from HB 150.
I conveyed that message to a state rep who told me bluntly that the homebuilder’s association with which we had spoken had recently made the decision to not contribute to political campaigns anymore, so therefore, they had no weight in any discussions.
The Pollyanna in me almost died at that moment. To hear that money talked was not the surprise, but realizing that the hope of having the people’s voices heard was slimmer than I thought was devastating. Does this mean that our State government has become the ebay of bill filing? Whoever pays the most to campaigns gets the vote?
Today, I’m saddened. I watch “my” party of “less government” getting involved in issues in which they have no knowledge. I watch the power plays among them all — holding bills in the House to punish someone in the Senate. The rumors amongst all about who is running for higher office and who, then, is dedicated to the State….
If THIS Pollyanna is disenchanted, it is frightening to think of the potential for future generations to want to get involved to fight for what is right. Surely we can rise about the “money talks” arena? Surely, we can change the cloud of suspicion and lack of confidence in our elected officials into well, sunshine again?
We just can’t give up. We have to have the citizens speak up. Really.
Perhaps it’s time to get the networks to show “Pollyanna” again.