June 14, 2008

Opponents: Trail Will Ruin Valley

By Edward Terry, News-Topic, Lenoir, N.C.

Jun. 14--It's not so much the Caldwell Pathways organization or the healthy lifestyles that it promotes that Yadkin Valley land owner Don Kincaid has a problem with. It's the fear that somewhere down the line, someone is going to take part of his property for a greenway project that has him fired up.

Kincaid introduced the issue to the Caldwell County Commission in May, which prompted the board to approve action to strike references in its comprehensive land-use plan supporting efforts to build the pathways that the organization develops. He's also worried about the "political games" being played with the issue by bringing the issue back up to allow the other side a chance to speak.

"We do not trust them (county commissioners)," he said. "My people (Yadkin community group) voted unanimously that we want these two corridors taken out completely from this land use plan. We're going to present our position.

"The best thing to do is remove that cancer, and we won't have to worry about it."

State law already allows the use of eminent domain, the involuntary seizing of land, by government to establish, enlarge or improve parks, playgrounds and other recreational facilities. Kincaid, being a former state senator, knows the law well. But it was seeing a line drawn across his property on Pathways' long-range plan to develop trails along the Yadkin River to the Wilkes County line that made him fear that state law.

There's no question that representatives with concerns about eminent domain for recreation will be out in full force Monday to voice their concerns about the issue.

Yadkin Valley resident Eliza Bishop said the issue is strictly a personal property issue.

She has no doubt that greenways can improve the quality of life in some neighborhoods, but as for the Yadkin River Valley, it could only hurt the bucolic setting that already exists. In addition to being a uniquely narrow river valley, it's also home to the state's highest concentration of rural historic sites, including the ancestral home of the Lenoir family that dates back to the 18th century and the grave of Laura Foster of "Tom Dooley" legend.

"The farmers in the area and land owners do not want their space at the river taken for a recreational purpose," she said. "That's as simple as it is."

Bishop is hopeful that the issue can be settled soon and believes that it's well on its way to happening, she said.

B.J. Setzer, who lives on Cedar Rock Circle east of Lenoir, is so worried that she and her sister scoured the neighborhood gathering signatures on a petition. That petition will be presented to the County Commission on Monday as well.

Another long-range Pathways plan calls for a greenway along Lower Creek crossing Lenoir and linking up to the Burke County line. The idea of a greenway on her property is scary.

"I'm a widower, and I live alone," Setzer said. "I don't want every Tom, Dick and Harry walking down through my yard.

"We have enough walking areas in Lenoir."

Even though the Pathways group is just as opposed to eminent domain as much as the outspoken opponents of its long-range plans, it's the idea that state law still allows eminent domain for such activities that has some residents fighting mad.

"The people who have lived here and maintained the land, some for generations, and those of us who have purchased riverfront property, do not want a greenway on our land, and should not ever feel pressure to provide the public with recreation by a greenway through our lands," Kincaid said. "There is much public land on which trails can be provided for recreation."

While there is plenty of evidence that greenways are healthy for communities, there is also research showing a downside.

According to the John Locke Foundation, a conservative North Carolina-based think tank, since greenways are commonly owned public property, they are more susceptible to crime, litter and degradation than privately-owned property. The report also states that public-opinion surveys about greenways often do not ask the opinions of residents who will live with a greenway essentially in their own backyards. According to a survey of homeowners adjacent to a greenway in the Raleigh area, homeowners believed that the new greenway would not be an asset to their neighborhoods, would increase crime and would lower their property values.

On the issue of eminent domain, the foundation also reports that North Carolina's constitution has the weakest property rights protections in the country. It is the only state in the country that does not have an express constitutional provision that limits the taking of private property for a public use with just compensation.

"State legislation is the only thing coming between North Carolinians and the government's ability to take private property for economic development or any other reason. When legislation can be changed at the whim of political interests, this is far from adequate protection," the foundation states in a recent report.


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