A resounding NO from former Orange County Democratic Party chair Barry Katz in his Oct. 28th LTE to the Chapel Hill News:

I will vote no on the ballot referendum to restructure the Orange County commissioners.

First, there hasn’t been enough public debate on the merits of change, and I oppose change without voters’ understanding its consequences. Second, since the mid-1930s, The Chapel Hill News has reported countywide contests between candidates in favor of funding schools, health clinics, etc., and candidates who oppose raising taxes to fund such services. Most years the pro-funding candidates win and they do it with support from all parts of the county, albeit with greater support in southern Orange. So this is an old story.

Third, my six years on the county Planning Board suggests to me that underlying the push to change how county commissioners are elected are residents who are concerned about “restrictive” land-use planning and the rights of landowners to do what they want with their land. I joined the board as a skeptic regarding land-use planning and left a confirmed proponent of strategic land-use planning. We have only to look at Wake County to see how unregulated growth leads to urban sprawl, a lack of public transportation and too little public open space.

Orange County has been in a decades-long urban-suburbanizing transition that will continue past my lifetime. Agriculture now accounts for about 1 percent of the county’s economy, but the value of agricultural land has skyrocketed in recent decades due to residential housing demand. “Recent residents,” i.e., people whose grandparents weren’t born in Orange County, constitute a strong majority of voters and now determine the outcome of local elections, as is only proper. Not only would new and future Orange residents benefit from planning, but agricultural landowners would enjoy sustained maximum land values if the quality of life stays high in the county, as would occur under a thoughtful land use plan.

I hope landowners recognize the practical truth in this notion. — Barry Katz, Chapel Hill

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