Name as it appears on the ballot: George McDowell
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: https://www.BeautifyCary.org/
Occupation & employer: Retired self-employed lawyer
Years lived in Cary: 15
1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the town council do differently or better over the course of your term?
I’m running for election because I believe the Secretary General of the United Nations and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce: that the earth is warming because of human activity and that immediate action is required to reverse that warming.
The federal government is politically unable to initiate meaningful action that would decrease the warming. North Carolina government has set goals for reducing emissions, but those goals are for far into the future, with no means of measuring incremental progress.
I believe that Cary, one of the best educated and wealthiest jurisdictions in the world, can become a leader [in the true sense of the word] in re-ordering itself into a sustainable [in the true sense of the word] community whose practices contribute to and are consistent with a stable climate.
The benefits that flow from employing sound environmental practices will impact Cary residents. We will enjoy cleaner air, less flooding, better physical and psychological health, and have the pleasure of living in a truly beautiful Town.
2) Given the direction of Cary’s town government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Cary did not properly plan for the explosion in population we are experiencing. The Cary Community Plan, which guides and directs the Town’s development, predicts the population will be 193,000 in the year 2040. In fact, we will pass 193,000 in the year 2022 – two years from now – and in 2040 we will have 98,000 MORE people than the Plan predicts.
My suggestion is that the Cary Community Plan be re-written so that we can plan for the infrastructure necessary to support the huge increase in population.
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
Pollution – In addition to the record levels of carbon dioxide and methane already in our air [which are slowly but inexorably sickening us], we increase the automobile exhaust amounts each day while simultaneously destroying the trees that filter our air and produce oxygen. We add 10.8 people per day to our population, and those new people bring on average seven cars with them. We cut down about 1.2 acres of trees per day [every day] to make way for development. Cary’s air quality on an average day is “moderate pollution.” There have been seven days in the last few years where the DEQ has recommended that active adults – active adults! – avoid outdoor activity because the air quality was so bad. This in a Town with no heavy industry and only one mine nearby. The solution is so simple as to be almost unbelievable – we must plant a huge number of trees. Cutting down on pollution means only that we are slowing the rate of increase – we must also filter the air of existing pollution. It doesn’t magically disappear.
Real property taxes – A typical home in Cary has increased in value 25% over the last year. This is because the market now includes buyers like Wall Street hedge funds; corporations formed for the purpose of buying single-family homes and turning them into rental properties; companies like Mark Spain Real Estate, which buys homes and re-sells them for profit; and BlackRock Investments, which buys homes as a hedge against inflation; in addition to the families simply looking for a home in which to live, have caused the value of homes to skyrocket. With the increase in assessed value comes increased real-property taxes. Wake County officials are hinting that the County portion of our real-property tax bills will increase about 5% [from 60 cents per $100 of value to 63 cents] to pay for the $58 million for new schools and building repairs. Cary should reduce its tax rate [currently 34.5 cents per $100 of assessed value] to an amount that takes into account the huge increase in market value but that still gives an amount needed to meet our needed spending. – The rise in assessed value of homes should be capped at some reasonable amount [as several other states do], but this is a state and county issue, and not one of which Cary has jurisdiction.
Affordable housing – this topic is studied and discussed at length. It was a big issue when I ran in 2017. It is a hot issue this year. Many people profess their “passion” for affordable housing. That passion gets us nowhere. I will work hard to find one that works.
4) What’s the best or most important thing the town council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the town should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.
The Town Council adopted the Cary Housing Plan, which is a commitment to attack the affordable-housing problem. The key now is to find money in the budget to finance the Plan’s goals.
The Town is planning to raze seven acres of forest in order to build an apartment complex that will have a percentage of its units reserved for below-market-rate housing for a limited period. These seven acres are the last natural area from the eastern boundary of Cary to downtown. The forest is next to a school and across the street from another.
5) What prior experience will make you an effective member of the town council and advocate of the issues listed above? Please note any endorsements you have received that you consider significant.
I practiced law for 25 years. For 23 of those years I had a private solo practice. I learned that the most effective advocates are those who, even though holding strong opinions themselves, enter discussions and negotiations with good faith intentions to work out mutually agreeable settlements. I will bring that intention to my work on Council.
I’m proud to be endorsed by the Sierra Club. Although I’m nominally a Democrat, I declined to be considered for the Democratic Party endorsement. The Cary Town Council is a non-partisan body, and party politics within it would likely render it as ineffective as our national Congress and state legislature.
6) Given the rate of growth in Cary, how will you ensure that growth is well managed and enhances the town rather than detracts from it? Where does density and height fit in in planning decisions, if it does? How do you intend to balance growth with sustainability?
The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development defines “sustainable development” as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
My votes on re-zoning proposals will be governed by this principle. Growth cannot be “balanced” with sustainability. Growth must be sustainable.
7) As with most places in the Triangle, Cary is grappling with issues related to affordable housing. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? Should it promote apartment living, duplexes, and/or triplexes? Encourage density in single family housing? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?
The issue of affordable housing is complex, and no one silver bullet will address it. Fundamentally, those who contribute greatly to society – police officers, firefighters, teachers – should be paid accordingly. In lieu of this, governments need to create avenues for these important members of our community to be able to afford to live where they serve. However, we cannot continue to burden our existing citizens, particularly senior citizens, to shoulder the burden of this growth, while national developers and investment groups extract record amounts of equity from our area. Rental properties in all forms, do not allow citizens to generate one of the most important financial tools. In-fill needs to incorporate affordable entry points to live and work in Cary, while allowing wealth growth which creates a path to home ownership. Developers will need to understand that a partnership is needed with government, and that they have a responsibility of addressing the issues collaboratively.
We also need to be smart about where affordable housing makes sense. Cary recently approved a plan to put affordable housing where low and middle-income households already exists while, at the same time, approving development projects to replace affordable houses with luxury apartments and mixed-use development. We need to be smart about where economic and demographically inequitable areas of Cary already exist, and encourage economic and demographic diversity where it is needed. We also need to require sustainable building practices and access to public transportation to all new communities in Cary to ensure that quality of life can be maintained along with affordable housing.
8) How should town leaders work with the large organizations who are relocating to, or expanding or investing in Cary? What obligations, if any, should these businesses/companies/facilities have to the town?
Town leaders should work with businesses with the intention of improving the environment. Corporations have no obligations have to the towns in which they are located other than to fulfill promises made as part of agreements with those towns. Town leaders should point out ways that corporate concern for the environment increases the corporate bottom line, particularly in communities in which they exist.
9) In your view, how can Cary be safer and more accessible using different modes of transportation? What is your vision for public transit, pedestrian and bike safety?
I support the Bus Rapid Transit Plan, funding for regional rail, and incorporating a discussion of a pathway to public transportation into every future development project. Higher density projects should incorporate spaces for bus shelters and landing zones. The Cary Community Plan also needs to be updated to address the issues that mixed-use developments create, particularly in addressing transportation options. We also need to anticipate the challenges to pedestrians and bicyclists, and incorporate this into the design of projects.
10) What are your goals for Cary’s downtown and what does the town need to do to achieve those goals?
We need to keep the value and uniqueness in downtown that is present no where else in Wake county. My hope is to make it a safe, walkable and bikeable area that will one day become comfortable in daytime from April ‘til October. To achieve this, we must plant many native noble hardwood trees. My goal is to make East and West Chatham Streets as pleasant, cool, and beautiful as South Academy Street. We need to expand the public bus service to allow visitors to downtown without detracting from it with an abundance of parking infrastructure.
11) Cary residents love their parks and greenways. How should the town work to preserve, improve, or expand them?
There is much to be done to preserve, improve and expand our parks. First of all, greenways need to be true greenways, and we need to work with developers to create true greenways in their developments, and not wide sidewalks.
To preserve our greenways, we need to equip our teams with the proper training techniques and equipment to improve the health of our existing green spaces. Most of the human-planted trees in Cary were improperly planted and have been incorrectly nurtured. Training offered to private companies and Town of Cary staff will go a long way to help preserve these spaces.
As a great example of how we can improve and expand our parks, please see the Cary Tree Archive [https://www.carytreearchive.org/index.php] for what our Town’s green spaces, including our greenways, parks, parkway medians, and streetscapes could look like. Five hundred volunteers have planted 300 trees, including a half-acre re-creation of a Longleaf pine savanna with a prairie meadow, a Fruit & Nut Orchard, and a beautiful large native pollinator garden. The Archive was conceived and constructed as an example of what can be done Town-wide. Please visit and see for yourself.
12) If there is anything else you would like to address please do so here.
I’m a fact-driven and action-oriented man. I get things done. I enjoy the comradeship of those who work together to get things done, and enjoy the process of improvement. I like to leave places in better condition than when I arrived.