The crowd of people in matching green T-shirts at Monday's Wake County Board of Commissioners meeting left with their mission—approval of a new county park in Fuquay-Varina—partially satisfied.
Commissioners ended more than four hours of discussion by voting 4–3 to enter into an agreement to begin a multimillion-dollar conversion of the former Crooked Creek golf course into a county park.
But many caveats remain—from the dismissal of pending lawsuits, to the negation of restrictive covenants on the land, to a satisfactory environmental assessment, and more. In addition, the acquisition is not outright; instead, it comes in the form of a lease-purchase agreement with the nonprofit Conservation Fund.
"If we don't take advantage of opportunities like this, we lose them," urged Commissioner Matt Calabria, who has spearheaded the drive for the park.
Commissioner Jessica Holmes, however, pointed out that the county has many other needs that could use millions of dollars in funding—homelessness, mental health treatment, veterans' issues, and troubled schoolchildren, for starters.
"There is still on the table an unanswered nine-point-nine-million-dollar request to provide students with counselors and social workers," Holmes said, referencing a Wake schools budget request that went unfulfilled in the current budget year.
Commissioner James West, meanwhile, pointed out that the county has a problem with upward mobility, which keeps many Wake County residents down.
"In Wake County if you're born poor, you stay poor," West said.
During the public comment period, Paulette Jones Leaven, with the North Carolina Association of Educators, noted that the commissioners voting on the park had decided in June against fully funding the county school board's request for the current school year.
"Meanwhile, here on the agenda I see a fifteen-million-dollar upfit to convert a golf course to a county park," Leaven said.
Holmes, West, and Commissioner Greg Ford ultimately voted against the motion.
The county estimates that it will take $23.4 million to buy the property, renovate it to county standards, and operate it through 2022. In voting to approve the project, commissioners overruled their own parks staff, which opposed the purchase, citing legal questions and competing priorities.
However, the packed meeting room held more than two hundred residents who have fervently pushed for the park. Some gave impassioned speeches painting the park as a spot for community relaxation; others said it could be home to a facility for children with autism.
"I think it's pretty clear here what the people want," park booster Ron Nawojczyk told commissioners. "People are here pleading with you to give us a safe place to exercise and relax."