May 13, 2008

Growth issues fuel debate in Republican primary

Three real estate pros are using a list of hot growth and development issues and a few heated remarks to win a bidding war for the Republican Party's nomination for the District 2 York County Council seat.

In the June 10 Republican primary, incumbent Tom Smith, co-owner of Lake Wylie's May Green Properties, faces challengers David McCorkle, a Charlotte construction and development consultant, and Bill Stiles, owner of Stiles Realty. No Democrats have filed for the seat, which represents the Clover and Lake Wylie areas of northern York County.

While Smith claims he wants to finish goals he set when first elected, McCorkle has made no secret that he hopes to unseat the incumbent he claims has special interests at heart. And while he isn't slinging any mud, Stiles says he brings more understanding and different ideas to the position than Smith.

"This is not as much about me winning the race, as it is from keeping Tom Smith from winning that seat," McCorkle, 54, said last week. "Nobody is going to influence me. ... I don't have the other team's jersey on under my suit."

McCorkle distributing fliers

McCorkle's campaign strategy has been to take the fight directly to Smith. He has circulated pamphlets accusing Smith of operating for his own best interests and for failing to communicate with constituents. McCorkle criticizes the incumbent for his active role in the Allison Creek rezoning proposal, citing Smith's history as a developer and past dealings with the property owner in question, Crescent Resources.

Instead, McCorkle, who has 30 years of experience in the Charlotte property development industry, said he doesn't work on development deals in York County. "It's a conflict of interest if you're on the council," he said.

McCorkle said, if elected, one of the first things he'll do is create a group of residents, business owners and other community stakeholders to advise him on council issues.

He supports mixed-use development, such as the Allison Creek plan, but said he is against excessive re-zoning to accomodate big business. McCorkle said he wants to require developers to pay for their own infrastructure needs. He wants to see fewer strip malls, fewer curb cuts and more mixed-use developments. And, as councilman, he said he'll stick to the 2025 land use plan.

"Why did we pay for the plan if we're gonna go against it 50 percent of the time?" he asked.

McCorkle, who has no prior political experience, said that once in office he would begin looking for ways to increase police patrols in Lake Wylie and better fund firefighters.

Smith: I've lived it

Despite the harsh criticism, Smith said he prefers to talk about his goals, not the verbal attack.

"I'm not going to respond. He just doesn't know me," Smith said about McCorkle's jabs, after previously noting he has served as a youth sports coach, on the land use planning committee and the 1997 "Pennies for Progress" program. "What I bring to the table is not what I think is a good idea. I've lived it."

Smith said his top goal when he took office last year was to help negotiate the development agreement with Crescent Resources for the Allison Creek site, something he first heard about as a member of the land use planning committee. He said that goal is close to fruition, with land for recreation, a lake buffer and school sites part of the proposal. And, for the record, he has repeatedly assured voters he has no financial investment in the deal.

Secondly, Smith said he wanted to see the county buy Carolina Water in an effort to lower water rates. He said an offer is being negotiated, and he expects to hear an answer in the next 60 days. If the deal doesn't go through, he said he hopes to continue negotiations into the next term.

Smith said he believes the new county manager, Jim Baker, and the council made the right decision to bring Pennies for Progress in-house after the budget shortfall was discovered. He said leaders have learned from mistakes, and that he'll recommend avoiding so many outside consultants in the future. He'll support putting the program back on the ballot in 2010, and said the council now has better oversight of the road-improvement program.

If elected to a second term, Smith said he'll work for a special tax district to pay for better fire service, especially in the Lake Wylie area, where he says paid, daytime staff is needed in addition to volunteers.

"These guys should not have to risk their lives away from their families, then worry about where the money is coming from, standing on the corner holding a boot," he said.

Stiles cites long ties to area

Bill Stiles, the Lake Wylie real estate broker, isn't using the harsh rhetoric about Smith -- he agrees with him in several areas, including Pennies for Progress and the Allison Creek plan -- but said he relates better to the public because of his lifelong ties to the area.

"I've seen where we've been and where we are now," said Stiles, who was raised in nearby Gastonia, N.C., but whose family roots run generations deep in the Bethel communty. "I'd like to be more available to the public."

Stiles, who lost to Perry Johnston in a contest for the same seat in 2004, said one of the first things he'd like to do, if elected, is organize a workshop for local contractors. He said small, local firms are qualified to do county work, but they often can't win county contracts -- required by state law to be awarded to a low bidder -- because they aren't educated on the bidding process. He said a workshop teaching businesses how to bid on a county project would make York County contractors more competitive with national firms.

"We can help educate the local contractors, and it will keep those tax dollars in York County, putting dollars and labor right back into our local economy," he said. "I think our local contractors should have an advantage."

Stiles is also an ardent supporter of a special tax district to generate money for better fire protection. He said the taxes would be offset when the rural fire departments get better insurance ratings thanks to newer equipment and more staff.

"Right now, our firefighters can't keep up with the growth," he said. "I'm not a big fan of new taxes, but that's one we need."

Stiles said he'll support another round of Pennies for Progress, but only after the roads already promised are completed or under way. He also wants to look at expanding recreation opportunities across the county. He said Lake Wylie and Clover residents need more ball fields and community center-type facilities. He suggests the county investigate allowing a private firm to manage fields and programs and sell advertising to generate revenue.

"We'd have to look at all the legal issues, but I think it's worth exploring," Stiles said. "I think the willingness is there to improve recreation. It's just a matter of finding the right pieces to the puzzle."

York County Council members serve two-year terms and are paid $14,664 annually.

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