George McDowell | Candidate Questionnaires - Wake County | Indy Week

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George McDowell

Cary Town Council (At-Large)

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George McDowell
Website: https://beautifycary.org
Occupation: Retired lawyer
Phone Number: 919-376-7822
Email Address: George@BeautifyCary.org
Years Lived in Cary: 12


1) Please identify the three most pressing issues the town faces and how you will address them.

The issues most pressing for the Town of Cary are a direct result of the Town’s weak commitment to environmental sustainability.

I will propose consolidation of the various sustainability and environmental initiatives of the town into one office, greatly expand the responsibilities of that office, and have the head of the office report directly to the Town Manager. The function of the office will be to ensure that the Town of Cary, in all that it does and in every feasible way, serves environmentally sensitive principles.

We will attack the problem of air pollution in Cary. The typical, or usual, Air-Quality-Index reading for Cary on any given day is “moderate pollution.” Although any pollution is harmful to all humans over the long term, moderate pollution is only immediately harmful to very young children, the elderly, and those with bronchial ailments. As Cary’s population increases, and more land is developed for that increase, more trees will be cut down. More people means more vehicles. Most of Cary’s air pollution comes from vehicle exhaust. It is vitally important that trees be planted – properly, and properly maintained – to replace what was cut. There are two [and only two] ways for that exhaust pollution to be removed from our air – either there are enough trees to remove it as they engage in the process of photosynthesis, or we residents will remove it as we engage in the process of breathing.

We will address the problem of flooding in Cary and in the four counties southeast of us. This flooding occurs every time it rains more than four inches in 24 hours. This has happened three times in the last three years: August 12, 2014, July 16, 2016, and April 24, 2017. Just as environmental degradation by jurisdictions upstream of us causes flooding in Cary, so also does our failure to protect our environment cause flooding downstream.

If we were sensitive to the fact that our actions in Wake County cause problems for counties to our east and south, and took steps to correct those actions, we would have greater justification for asking those jurisdictions upstream of us to stop allowing polluted water to our reservoir.

Alternatively, were Cary unilaterally to make efforts to halt or reduce stormwater runoff, perhaps voters and citizens in other jurisdictions would be moved to be good neighbors and do likewise.

We will plant one million trees in the next decade, to replace what has already been cut, what has already been improperly planted and is not growing properly, for the purpose of raising our tree-cover percentage from below 50% to over 60%.


2) Earlier this year, the town council unanimously passed the Cary Community Plan, which is designed (among other things) to create denser housing and bring more people downtown. Already there’s been at least one case, on Urban Drive, where residents protested new townhomes. If elected, how would you go about addressing conflicts related to urbanization and growth in what has historically been a suburban community?

The first step that must be taken with respect to the Cary Community Plan is to address and correct a critical error within it. The Plan suggests the population of the Town of Cary will increase from its 2010 number (133,000) to 193,000 in the year 2040. The unnamed writer of the document states that the Town’s yearly growth rate of the last few decades was 5% [in fact the Compound Annual Growth rate was 5.60%], but that that rate was expected to decline. The Plan does not specify who it is that expects the growth rate to decline, by how much he or she expects it to decline, when the decline is expected to begin, and for what reason or reasons the decline is expected.

Mayor Weinbrecht, in his 2017 State of the Town Address, stated that the population-growth rate in Cary is less than 3% and that that rate is sustainable.

Assuming a growth rate of 2.75% for what the Mayor described as “less than three percent,” the Town’s population will surpass 193,000 at some time in 2022, less than five years from now.

Using the U. S. Census Bureau’s official counts for the end-of-decade censuses and its official estimates for other years as the basis for projecting Compound Annual Growth Rate, the Town’s population will exceed 193,000 at some point in 2021 – less than four years from now.

Using the Mayor’s projected rate of increase, the Town will have in 2040 a population of about 315,000.

Using the Census Bureau’s official figures a the basis for projection, the Town in 2040 will have about 367,000 people.

In a Council Meeting at which the Urban Drive development was discussed publicly, Council member Jack Smith said that denser development was exactly what the Cary Community Plan called for, and that the Town had better get ready for it.

The Town’s Compound Annual Growth Rate of population was 3.34% for each year between 2000 and 2010. From 2010 to 2015, the CAGR was 3.39% each year. If the Cary Community Plan’s projection of 193,000 people in the year 2040 is to be met, the CAGR must, in this year and for each succeeding year, be reduced to 0.76%. Manifestly, this is impossible. The Town of Cary has not had a CAGR of less than 2.5% since the 1940-to-1950 decade [when it was 2.4%].

If elected I will ask/respectfully insist that that the Plan’s population prediction be revisited, and its density projection be adjusted to conform more with reality. As a constitutional base of the document, it must be accurate, and we should not and cannot wait until the results of the 2020 Census are in to confirm the inaccuracy.

A full discussion of this issue is on my campaign website: https://beautifycary.org/population.php


3) As the town grows, affordable housing will become more and more of an issue. How do you believe the town should address affordability?

Like the incumbent Town Council members, who have 84 years of service among them, I have no concrete plan to address the issue of affordable housing.

I understand that Council member Lori Bush is “pretty passionate” about the issue [http://loribush.org/2017/02/10/a-home-for-everyone/]. In her 2/10/2017 blog post, Mrs. Bush suggests that the Town’s 2010 Affordable Housing Initiative “probably could use an update.” I agree with Mrs. Bush, and if elected will support that update.

In 2016, the Wake County Board of Commissioners established the Wake County Steering Committee on Affordable Housing. Its purpose is to improve access to affordable housing in the community. Members of this committee include representatives from political jurisdictions, advocacy organizations, the construction industry, and (importantly) residents.

The Committee is to deliver its final report before October, 2017.

I can’t, of course, commit to following recommendations from an unseen report, but will study it and support efforts that would lead to more affordable housing in Cary.

I note that in 2010 a dozen students at the NCSU School of Design participated in the Wake County Affordable Housing Project, supervised by a professor of architecture. The semester-long exercise required the students to study three towns, one of which was Cary, and design affordable housing in conformity with the published plans for development of the areas of the towns.

The students designed housing in two areas of Cary. Seven years later, neither project has been built. However, the final report of the project contains a discussion of reasons why it is in the best interests of the towns to adopt plans to provide affordable housing, and this discussion in combination with the recommendations of the Wake County Affordable Housing Project can serve as starting points for the next Council to craft a plan OF ACTION.

However, my vision and goals for the Town of cary, whether adopted in full or in part, will result in even higher housing prices, because the Town will be a more desirable place to live as a result of its cleaner air and because of the beauty of the Town will increase because of the extensive planting of healthy noble hardwood trees.


4) What in your public or professional career shows your ability to be an effective member of the town council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to deal with them?

I practiced law in Baltimore, Maryland for 30 years. One of my clients was the Board of License Commissioners for Baltimore City, to whom I provided – when asked – legal advice, and for whom I served as trial counsel in cases where their decisions were appealed to courts. In 20-something years as counsel to the Board, I probably handled 150 to 200 appeals of their quasi-judicial hearings decisions. The Cary Town Council frequently conducts quasi-judicial hearings, and I am well versed in the process.


5) Please give an example of an action by the town council in the past year that should have been handled differently. Also, what was the town’s biggest accomplishment during that period?

The major issue mishandled by the Town Council occurred slightly more than a year ago – the approval of the design of Downtown Park and the Academy Street renovation. In 2015 I asked the Council to modify the plans as submitted by the consultant. This request was not granted.

SOME problems with the finished products are listed below. Because the planning for the second phase of Downtown Park will start soon, it is important that mistakes are not repeated.

1. The Park is uncomfortably hot at best, and unusable at worst, before about 2:00 pm each during Cary’s now almost six-month summers because trees to the south of the park were cut down in order to make room for sidewalk widening. The resulting heat island created by direct sunlight from the southeast and south striking the paved surface of the park ground makes it uncomfortable until the sun travels far enough west so that the uncut trees on Academy Street provide relief.

2. A dozen trees were planted far from the used area of the park. They were planted incorrectly and mulched improperly. Two have died already. The remaining ones are wilting and misshapen, and will NEVER thrive. Most will die within three or four years.

3. The trees that have been planted within the park proper are hybrid trees that will neither grow tall enough nor develop crowns sufficient to shade and cool park users.

4. Trees planted on Academy Street are wired for electrical connections. Strings of electric lights have been wrapped around the branches of the trees and are turned on at night. The circadian rhythms of the trees are disrupted. The natural growth of the trees is thwarted. The wrapping and disruption ensure the trees will never grow as nature intended.

5. Even if the trees didn’t have lights wrapped around them, they would not thrive, because they have only been alloted four-foot square plots of unpaved surrounds from which to draw water and nutrients. [Wake Forest, for example, requires at least 32 square feet for its tree plots, which area is generally accepted as the minimum space sufficient to allow for normal growth.]

6. The trees planted along the sidewalks of Academy Street are mostly columnar. Even without lights wrapped around them, and even with sufficient space from which to draw food and water, they will never develop crowns sufficient to shade much of the sidewalks and streets. Those dining outdoors at the two cafés on Academy Street will never be shaded and cooled by the trees. [The trees next to the Academy Street Bistro already show signs of desiccation – their topmost branches are devoid of leaves, indicating the trees don’t have the energy to pump water that high. A tree near the library has died and been removed.]

7. Cast-iron tree surrounds were used. These were new and cost about $1,300 each. Recycled plastic surrounds cost one fourth as much, and shipping costs are one tenth what they are for the cast-iron surrounds. In the highly unlikely event the existing trees’ trunks would grow such that the surrounds had to be adjusted, adjusting the cast-iron surrounds requires heavy equipment, a crew, and an acetylene torch. Adjusting a recycled plastic surround can be done by one person with a hacksaw in ten minutes.


6) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?

I’m a former Republican [ran unsuccessfully for a seat as a delegate to the 1972 Republican National Convention] and a former Democrat [changed my registration to Unaffiliated during the 2016 campaign because I was offended by the savage incivility of the candidates for president and the candidates for the North Carolina senate seat].

If forced to apply a label, I guess it would be moderate. But I wouldn’t feel I was being helpfully forthcoming.

To the extent possible, I would try to cast votes based on the facts and circumstances of any issue.


7) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

My detractors pigeon-hole me as a one-trick pony, concerned only with trees, and ignoring the facts that trees purify our air and water, anchor our soil, greatly reduce stormwater runoff, and pull massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it. In addition, they enhance our quality of life through increased beauty of our surroundings and by inducing greater psychological well-being.

My opponent in this race, Mr. Yerha, a man for whom I have great respect and high admiration, has earned a reputation as an environmentally sensitive candidate. Frankly, other than the fact that he speaks up in council meetings periodically about champion trees, I don’t understand how he merits this reputation.

My thought is, if that is the criteria for being thought of as an environmentalist, then the criteria must be changed and the bar set much higher.

I offer guided tours of the Town to those who do not believe that the Town’s trees are in deplorable condition. Some have accepted this offer, including high-level employees of the Town and other involved and concerned citizens. All who have gone on a tour with me have expressed the opinion that something must be done about the way trees are treated here.

For an incomplete list of those Town luminaries who HAVE NOT gone on a Tour with me, see those who have endorsed my esteemed opponent, Mr. Yerha: http://www.edforcary.org/endorsements

I offer any member of the IndyWeek board a tour of the Town. Your convenience. My dime.

Respectfully submitted,
George McDowell

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