Imagine you’re the mayor of a small but growing municipality in western Wake County. Your residents want better shopping options, and your government could always use extra cash. Along comes the biggest mixed-use development proposal your town has ever seen, which will bring with it convenient retail shopping and roughly $850,000 in tax revenue.
But not everyone in your town is excited. At least one citizens’ group is circulating flyers bemoaning the size of the project and its impact on traffic, adjacent neighborhoods, etc., etc. Your town’s planning and zoning board voted 3-2 to deny the plan.
What do you do?
If you’re Morrisville Mayor Jan Faulkner, you instruct the developers to send a letter to every town resident, then you volunteer your town staff to fact-check that letter for accuracy.
Here, we provide the letter Park West Village development partners sent to Morrisville residents, along with corrections and notes that Planning Director Ben Hitchings provided to the developers in an e-mail.
The Morrisville Town Board of Commissioners approved Park West Jan. 28.
The letter reads: “On January 14, Town of Morrisville leaders suggested that a letter be sent to residents to provide accurate information to the public regarding the Park West Village project.”
This sentence originally read, “On January 14, Mayor Jan Faulkner and the Morrisville Board of Commissioners requested that accurate facts regarding the Park West Village project be provided to the public to address this misinformation.” Hitchings instructed the developers to strike it entirely, citing a comment from Town Manager John Whitson: “You can simply delete the reference or rewrite the paragraph more generically such that it is a letter initiated by you.”
The letter reads: “The total leasable area is 710,000 square feet of retail, office, entertainment, restaurant space, and includes only one anchor that is a ‘big box’ retail department store. Its Main Street will consist of numerous shops, restaurants, residential and entertainment options.”
Hitchings wrote: “The current draft makes no reference to the number of dwelling units proposed for the project.” The developers neglected to include that up to 350 apartment units are planned, along with a five-story, 140-room hotel.
The letter reads: “Town and private traffic impact studies have shown that the net increase in vehicles due to the project is fewer than 10,000 per day which are dispersed over 3 primary roadways.”
Opponents of Park West cited traffic as their biggest concern. The original draft of this letter undercounted the traffic impact by half, stating it would generate fewer than 10,000 additional car trips per day. Hitchings offered this correction: “The Traffic Impact Analysis estimates that the project would generate 9,744 trips into the project on average each day, and 9,744 trips out of the project … for a combined total of 19,488 trips….” Apparently, the developers swerved around that number by estimating the number of cars, not car trips.
The letter reads: “Very few projects in the area are known to be built to these standards.”
This sentence originally read, “No other project in the Triangle is known to be built to these standards.” Hitchings noted: “We cannot confirm this statement.”
Hitchings instructed the developers to remove this final statement from the original: “This letter was reviewed by the Town of Morrisville planning department for factual accuracy. No public funds were used to produce or mail this letter.”
Good thing the developers complied. In a statement provided to the Independent, Hitchings said the letter showed up in Morrisville mailboxes about a week after he delivered his fact-check. “It looks like only four or five of our comments were fully addressed in the final version. The Town felt that if we had the opportunity to review such a letter for factual accuracy, then we should take it. However, we were not in control of the final version that was mailed out to residents, and did not approve it.”