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CoastLine Candidate Interviews: Wilmington City Council - Hays, Ray, Fisher

The City of Wilmington is home to more than 117-thousand people.   That’s growth of about 11,000 people since the last census in 2010.  73% of the population identifies as white, less than 20% is African-American, and 6% is Latino or Hispanic.

According to current projections, if Wilmington sees low growth, which is not what’s expected in this part of the country and the state over the next quarter century, the city will have about 14,000 more people in 2040.  If growth continues at an accelerated pace, the city could be home to more than 50,000 additional people by then.

On this edition of the CoastLine Candidate Interviews, we meet three of the nine people who are hoping to represent you on Wilmington’s City Council.  Members of Council serve staggered, four-year terms on this non-partisan board.   There are three open seats on the six-member board.  Earl Sheridan, who has served on Council for three terms and is wrapping up his twelfth year, has chosen not to run again. 

Two incumbents are seeking re-election. 

The order of candidate interviews was chosen randomly just before the live broadcast.

Listen to Segment 1 with Deb Hays here.

Segment 1: 

Deb Hays is the current Chair of the City of Wilmington Planning Commission, she recently served as Chair and she is a current Commissioner of the Wilmington Housing Authority and Housing Economic Opportunities.  Deb Hays served on the Steering Committee for the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan.  And she is the Treasurer of Wilmington Downtown, Inc.   She was recently appointed to the Airlie Gardens Foundation Board and is a long term Committee Chair for the North Carolina Azalea Festival.  She works as a Realtor with Intracoastal Realty.

Listen to Segment 2 with James A. Ray here.

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Deb Hays, welcome to CoastLine.

Deb Hays: Thank you, Rachel. It's pleasure to be here.

RLH: Deb Hays, there are nine candidates competing for just three open seats. Two of the competitors in this race are incumbents, which are historically harder to unseat. Why do you think there is so much competition this year, and what's that about for you?

DH: Well, there's competition every year that city council runs. I think that's great. I think it's wonderful that people want to participate in their local government and care enough to step forward. It is a daunting task. There is so much more to city council than just the every other Tuesday meetings and the agenda review sessions on Monday. Each city council member serves on multiple different boards and reports back and is representative to that board from city council. There is a tremendous time commitment for that. And so I think having, you know, proven dedication, service to the community, and having knowledgeable experience will help set the ground and get you going, straight up. There's, you know, a slower learning curve. There will always be a learning curve but much smaller.

RLH: And we'll talk some about that experience in a moment, especially your time on the planning commission. But you ran two years ago, you came in fourth, which meant you lost that third seat to Paul Lawler by 89 votes, which I think is equivalent to about half a percentage point. What are the lessons you take from that, if any?

DH: Well, first of all, Paul and I are good friends and so congratulate him on that, and I also want to say my best to Dr. Sheridan. He will be missed greatly, and I don't think anyone can fill his shoes. They may take a spot on city council, but they can't fill his shoes. You learn any time you do something for the first time. You always learn from that, and hopefully I've taken from that all the good things that I did, and add to it some things that, you know, I need to reach out and do more. But the one thing that I'm very, very committed to is the citizens of Wilmington, all the citizens, not just one group or the other.

RLH: Where are the areas that you feel you do need to reach out more when you look back at 2015?

DH: Well, it's not necessarily a specific area of town, it's maybe a different way of reaching out to people in smaller groups, going out and the grassroots effort. I thought I did quite a bit of that. I don't think you can do enough of that. I think any candidate will tell you that you always feel like you could do more.

RLH: Short-term rentals, as you know, being on the planning commission are a source of tremendous controversy in the city. We've dedicated a couple of CoastLine editions just to that issue. Some stakeholders say much stricter standards are needed before homes can be rented out on a short-term basis. Others say short-term rentals are property owners' right and a critical part of the Wilmington tourism economy. You've been directly involved in these discussions as a member of the Planning Commission. Where do you think that policy needs to go?

DH: Well, there's a lot of aspects to this. It's not just a short-term rental. There's literally three different classifications of short-term rentals. You know, you can have your whole house rental, which is unhosted. You could have hosted. You could have an auxillary or --you know-- like a garage-apartment. You could have duplex, triplex. There's a lot of varieties to this. So, first of all, we've got to define that. Second of all, I think we need to drill down and really understand what the issues are. There are issues out there. I've heard them. I've seen them, gone out and viewed them myself. So there are some issues out there, and primarily those issues are in the residential aspects of our neighborhoods, not in the commercial, the central business district (CBD) of downtown.

RLH: That seems to be the one geographic area sort of immune from the discussion.

DH: Exactly, exactly. We're really, when we're talking about some of the issues it really has to do with the residents. There's private property rights on both sides. We want to preserve and protect the neighborhoods. But the, do the people that own these homes have a right to do what they want to do with them?

RLH: So this has been a head scratcher for city staff as well. They've spent a lot of time researching other cities and their policies. And still, for every argument to support one side of this, there is data to support the other side. So where do you, Deb Hays, stand on whether people in the downtown historic district, residential district should be able to rent out…should people be able to rent out their entire home for a weekend?

DH: Well, right now our code says that it's a minimum of seven days. That's not being adhered to. So my take on this, and again, we're not to the point where we have that ordinace ready to go before City Council. But my take on this is number one, we need to understand what the issues are. We need to make sure and drill down on those issues, and we need to be able to identify these properties. We also need to make an ordinance that is going to be fair and reasonable to everyone, but one that is also manageable for staff and enforceable. And right now, we don't have that. So there's the first order of business as I see it. We need to get them all registered and know where they are.

RLH: We have an e-mail, Brian from Wilmington writes, "In the past 18 to 24 months there has been what I consider an alarming explosion in development with little regard for the local environment. Examples on Kerr Avenue and 17th Street Extension as well as all the development on River Road, to name a few. This type of development is taking place with little thought put into infrastructure and the impact on local wildlife habitat. Brian says, "I understand many in local government have ties to real estate and development companies. What ties do you have to any of these entities, and what do you plan to do about this unchecked and seemingly unregulated development?" he says. 

DH: Well, first of all, thank you Brian, appreciate your comments, but it is not something that's going unchecked. Please take a look at the Create Wilmington comprehensive plan. It is a voluminous document. We spent, I served on that steering committee. Our planning staff is second to none. I'd put them up against anybody. They won national awards for this. That is our blueprint going forward. And there is a big part that goes across all of the aspects of it about the environment. And while I'm in that, please note that when you talk about realtors we live here; we serve on groups and committees.

We're very dedicated, and one of our most precious goals is quality of life. And quality of life means preserving those neighborhoods, protecting the environment, and enriching lives. Now, does that mean no growth? No. But does that mean growth at any cost? Absolutely not. We need, the plan that is in place was unanimously voted on by City Council in March of 2016. It is our blueprint for the future, and we need to give it time to enact. I will say this: I know we've got short time, but we're seeing a lot of growth right now that is pent up. If we had not gone through an economic downturn several years ago, we would not be seeing this volume of growth in this short a period of time. It would have come about over the course of time, which would have been much easier on our on our residents and citizens.

RLH: So you're saying once this explosion has kind of seen this phase out, then it will slow down to a more gradual growth?

DH: I do think so. I also, please note that every single time any projects come before the planning staff, the planning commission, and city council, they are put up against all the standards that we put in place with our comprehensive plan, which has infrastructure in that environment. All of those aspects and some of those things are being done. They're slower coming in, but we do understand that is a vital part of what we're what we're doing. The plan is strong; it is good.

RLH: We have a question from Jim. He writes, "Why is there a need for more apartments downtown in the Project Grace proposal? Why not develop Brooklyn Arts District instead?" And of course we know just Tuesday night there was a meeting about the New Hanover County Library branch that's downtown; what's going to happen on that block? What would you say to him?

DH: First of all, I was there and listened intently to everyone. First of all, you need to know that is a county project. It is located inside the city, but that is county-driven and will be voted on by the county. Certainly, the city wants to be a part of that conversation, but that is something that is guided by the county. Nothing has been decided upon yet. They have researched. They actually asked Wilmington downtown Inc. to bring forth some plans. 

WDI went out and hired a consultant and brought forth four different plants, one of those maybe chosen, one may not. They are, I do know this, please if you're interested in this, and certainly everybody wants to preserve and protect the library, there's no question about that. But there will be two public forums on this next Monday and Tuesday, one will be at the downtown library, which I believe is on Monday and one will be at the Cape Fear museum on Market Street on Tuesday, and I believe they start at 6:00. Please verify that on the county's website. 

RLH: We will actually post information about that as well.

DH: Please do that because I want to make sure I have the time right. I'm pretty certain about the dates.

RLH: Deb Hays, I just want to say we've gotten a couple of e-mails from the same people who are asking the same questions in kind of a different way. Brian again says, "Ask Deb Hays what ties she has to any of the real estate development companies.” And of course we identify the fact that you work as a realtor at Intracoastal, is there any other connection that he's asking about?

DH: I'm not sure; he's putting realtors and developers together. They're two very different, two very different aspects. I am a realtor. I'm a broker. I'm involved with a wide variety of people. And my base is very, very broad, and I have support from a lot of different people. So it is not just one or the other, and I am very focused on being there for all the citizens, for all of Wilmington, not just certain groups, not just certain areas, but everyone and doing what is best for the entire city.

RLH: So we have just a few minutes left. We've heard so much about affordable housing, partly through efforts of Paul D'Angelo with the Affordable Housing Coalition. We've had public summits; we've heard about tours. We've done stories, but let's hit the reset button. What do we need to do to create more affordable housing here? What role does the city council play?

DH: Well, there's a variety of things that I think city council can do and has done some of the things that the Planning Commission and planning staff have enacted. Given to city council, you know, adding to, changing, redesigning our code and our development and our new land development code will be coming out next year. That is a critical component. That's the second phase of the Create Wilmington plan. We need to be focused on that. One of the things that we have done is change some different aspects of our code so that we can bring in more affordable housing. I'm sorry. I could go on and on, but there are a lot of different facets that we can do. We can incentivize to bring people in to build these specific projects that we need to have done.

RLH: Deb Hays, thanks so much for being with us today.

Segment 2:

James Ray is now Associate Minister of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Wilmington after retiring from a nearly-30-year career with the U.S. Postal Service.  He received an honorable discharge after five and a half years of service in the U.S. Air Force.  He has volunteered with Coastal Horizons and served on the Drug Prevention Council.

Listen to Segment 3 with Perry Fisher here.

Segment 2

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: James Ray, welcome to CoastLine.

James Ray: Thank you. Good to be here.

RLH: James Ray, there are so many people vying for three open seats. Nine. Nine candidates, that's a lot of people, so much competition this year. What brought you into the race?

JR: Well, I was motivated mostly by the Women's March. I also had some interest in doing something to help Wilmington because I love this city. After the election last year, I worked for the DNC as a canvas captain, and I felt the need to do something. And so after praying about it, and reflecting on my life, in January when I seen the Women's March that just energized me, and I decided I'm going to run for office. I looked into the offices in Wilmington and saw that the city council was open. So I threw my hat in the ring.

RLH: And here you are. I want to talk about something that you said on another radio show. You were talking with John and Pam on their morning show, and you said that you want to bring more love to the community. The timing of that is interesting. There was an effort in UNCW's Watson School of Education, they recently produced a large mural in response to the violence in Charlottesville, Radical Love Project, I think they called it. They are now trying to turn that into a series of lectures. How do you come at that issue, and what do you mean by bringing more love into the community?

JR: Well, the base foundation for my campaign is the ability to spread truth and love to combat fear and hate. One of the problems that I've seen in observing Wilmington these last six years that I've lived here was that we are stuck in the past. We are stuck based on fear and hate, and there is no trust. Especially, this citizenry does not trust political leaders. So in order to combat fear and hate, truth and love would do that. Truth will cause you to move. After the Women's March and seeing the resistance movement started, truth is what energizes this march to resist the negativism, the hate, and the fear. So my campaign is based on spreading truth, transparency, and then using that truth that we believe in to move into love.

RLH: Is there a specific element of truth, a specific way that you feel our current leadership are not being fully transparent or fully truthful? What areas do we need to bring truth to?

JR: Well, information releasing is an area. The political leaders don't release information in a timely fashion, and they don't give the public an opportunity to respond to the information before decisions are made. That's one area.

RLH: Can you give us a specific example of where you've seen that happen here?

JR: Well, just yesterday at the meeting for the library.

RLH: The Project Grace meeting?

JR: Yes, and the information did not get out in time before the commission had selected four different ideas. And now that the public has received this, and found out about it, the public is upset. They want to know why, why didn't we know this beforehand? Before you made these choices, even though nothing has been chosen and it's still open, but public people that are motivated, that are involved, that are politically active want to know well beforehand so that they can have they say in their input.

RLH: You have said that you want to remove the Confederate statues in the city of Wilmington. We know this has been part of not just a local debate but a national debate in terms of how various communities are handling this. That currently is of course beyond the scope of what a city council member can do because state law requires an act of the General Assembly. But still, if you didn't have to move the General Assembly, if you could just take control of that issue, what would you do with those statues? How do you think they should be handled?

JR: Well, it's more than just statues and the monuments. The real reason for them, the bottom line is this issue is about systematic racism and bigotry. The statues and the monuments doesn't do anything except establish the fear and hate.  And it gives people a, it causes them to, when they seem to get agitated, to get upset. So we have to deal with the bottom line issue. Just removing the statutes and the monuments is not dealing with it. We have to deal with the bottom line: systematic racism and bigotry that goes on across our nation.

RLH: And I think there are a lot of people who would probably agree with you, that it goes on in this community. This is a divided community, and it's a majority white community. How can leaders go about dismantling this kind of currently present racism and bigotry? What can people do?

JR: People have to, leaders have to express the need for us to get to know one another. One of the problems that happened with racism and bigotry is prejudice. Prejudice is nothing more than prejudging the person that you don't know. So when we can, when the people can come together and know what a black person is about, know what the white people are about, and get to know them and not judge them, but working with them, understand them, and hear their point of view about different things. When we know each other, when we learn each other, some of that racism will just evaporate, but it has to be done in truth. We do a lot of hiding, a lot of lying, and we don't want people to actually know how we are, but if we open up and let people know who we are and what we are about. I've seen it and experienced it with dealing with different races. When people learn who I am and what I'm about, the walls come down, and we can relate to one another in a pleasant way.

RLH: Well, call us out for a minute. How do we do the hiding and the lying, specifically?

JR: Well, we do it because we're selfish. We want our lives, and we want our rights. We want to be right, and we want to live our lives for ourself and not live a life that is beneficial for others. No man is an island. You goin’ to have to interact with other people. And when you interact, are you going to do it to benefit others as well as yourself? In fact, if you do what President Kennedy said, when he said ask not what you can do for yourself, but what you can do for one another. It benefits you more than being selfish. When you reach out and apply true love, it benefits you greatly.

RLH: Chase from Wilmington, welcome to CoastLine, you're on the air.

Chase: Thank you. I'm calling because I'm deeply concerned about the level of development that's going on in Wilmington. There's been an inordinate amount of apartments going up, housing going up, and just this year alone they've got at least a thousand more residences. Now, I've been told that there are three new developments taking place on Carolina Beach Road between 3000 to 5000 block.

RLH: What's your question for James Ray?

Chase: What I want to know is, why are they building subsidized housing blocks, creating poverty in specific areas as opposed to creating a situation where all the builders have to offer a certain percentage of subsidized housing within the buildings, so that we have diversity in the schools, and we have diversity in the community, instead of creating what we used to call projects?

RLH: OK. James Ray, let's let James Ray answer. Thank you so much for your call.

JR: Yes, Saturday I went on a tour with the Cape Fear Housing Coalition, and it was a tour on affordable housing. And this tour was impressive, it was informative. It was great. We went to different locations, and this coalition is working together to develop affordable housing in the city, and there's different organizations and groups. A lot of them are nonprofit. A lot of them receive grants and funding from the governments: state and federal and city government, and they are developing housing that are affordable. I think the affordable housing issue is one of the issues that we need to work on, because we need to have affordable housing for workers, for retirees, for those on fixed income, and for disabled citizens, and not just for those that are looking to have condos and high level apartments and houses.

RLH: In 2015, the Star News published an examination of the 10 highly populated cities in North Carolina and found that of those cities only Wilmington had at-large seats on city council with no districts. This year more than half of the current council lives in one precinct. Do you think there's an argument to be made for creating districts? Do you feel with the current configuration of council everyone is well represented in the city?

JR: I feel we need districts instead of at-large voting for the city council to have proper representation of all citizens. That seeing the location of the city council presently does not seem like everybody is fully represented. And when we elect political leaders based on districts, then we can have overall representation.

RLH: You worked in the New York Police Department, not as a police officer but as a civilian. What did you learn there, and what lessons can you bring to Wilmington? Do you see a conflict between say black lives matter and blue lives matter?

JR: I not only worked with the city police department, I was a security police specialist for the Air Force. I am pro-police, but I'm also pro-civilian security, safety, and the ability to have community policing. I brought that up in the briefing with Chief Evangelous, and he expressed how much Wilmington is doing, what the Wilmington Police Department is doing to establish community policing, and I acknowledge that. But one of the problems we have to establish is community policing, not only in those neighborhoods that are considered crime ridden neighborhoods but establish them in all neighborhoods. Let it be known and broadcast how good of job that the police department is doing and can do. A lot of black people don't trust police because the first thing they think about when you see a police car is I'm going to be arrested.

RLH: Is this warranted here?

JR: Community policing or?

RLH: Well, the distrust that exists in black communities.

JR: And that's something that the police department is working on, and they can work on. The police chief, he assured me that this is something that they have in the future plans of the Wilmington police department.

RLH: And that's the time that we have. James Ray, thank you so much for joining us today.

JR: You're welcome.

Segment 3: 

Listen to Perry Fisher here.

Perry Fisher has lived in Wilmington for a little more than 38 years.  He ran his own restaurant, Front Street News, before moving to broadcast journalism at 980 WAAV under the tutelage of the late Donn Ansell.  After radio news, Perry Fisher went to work in the newsroom at WECT.   He is an unaffiliated voter.

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Perry Fisher, welcome to CoastLine.

Perry Fisher: Thank you very much. There was one correction there, if you don't mind.

RLH: Go ahead.

PF: Front Street News was actually a newsstand coffee shop, bistro, restaurant, nightlife kind of place, it wasn't a newspaper, but it sounds like it was a newspaper.

RLH: Goodness. OK, well the scuttlebutt on the street about you needs to be corrected. Thank you for that.

PF: We probably created some news, but we didn't print any.

RLH: Perry Fisher, have you ever held public office before?

PF: No.

RLH: Why now?

PF: Now or never in a way, I wouldn't, if it hadn't been for my reporting experience I wouldn't be here, because there was five years worth of hands-on reporting for the radio station where really there were only three of us in the newsroom. I kind of assigned myself to become, you know, the guy who went to the council in the city and the county and the Board of Education, the hospital, and airport. I went to all their meetings, and so I got pretty well immersed in -- you know -- how the pieces fit together. Then in the newsroom at TV 6 assigning a lot of it, I was able to watch it so…

RLH: And is that what's now WECT?

PF: Yes. But as far as now, I think that the work that I've been doing in the last few years with…it's been kind of civic and behind the scenes. It has shown me that there's a lot that can be done in Wilmington, and is being done in Wilmington that can address some of our most difficult problems.

RLH: Tell us about that work. What is that work?

PF: Well, to me, it boils down to concentrating on strengthening families. I think that our biggest problems, and this is not only Wilmington obviously, our biggest problems are social, and almost all of them can be traced, to some extent, back to disintegrating family unit. There's no society that can work in an ongoing, indefinite way with broken families.

RLH: What's the work that you're doing to help bolster families?

PF: The work that I have done has been largely private, but I helped last year Ben David, the district attorney, Founder of the Hometown Hirers program, which merged into and with cafe Phoenix, not cafe Phoenix, excuse me.

RLH: Phoenix Employment Industires.

PF: Thank you. I still have the restaurant on my mind. I was able to help with that merger by observing for weeks and being there to report on how the merger itself was going, and that work introduced me to the United Way and to some of the domestic violence work that's being done and the whole array of social safety net services that are ongoing. They had me look from about 10,000 foot vantage point of how that system works, and maybe to see some of the places that it might even be improved.

RLH: If you were to win a seat on city council, how would you take that experience and parlay it into policy making at the city level?

PF: Well, that's an excellent question, and I actually asked myself that numerous times to come up with this answer. That is that family -- and strong families -- are really the lifeblood of any community. And so it would the Fisher family thing, if you will, an animating spirit. It would become and has become already, to some extent, the fundamental litmus test for every proposal, every agenda item and then every vote that I would be taking I would be asking myself, is this proposal good for building families? It's a huge problem; it's a knotty problem. It's a chronic problem.

RLH: So let's hold that litmus test up against one of the major controversial issues in front of the city of Wilmington or soon to be in front of council and that is short-term rentals. There is of course a lot of opposition to allowing short-term rentals in the residential historic district and other residential districts within city boundaries. And there are advocates for short-term rentals who say this is part of the Wilmington tourism industry, and it's my right as a as a property owner. Where do you stand on that issue?

PF: Well, are we talking about only the historic district?

RLH: No, we're talking about an ordinance for the entire city of Wilmington.

PF: OK. Well, let me put it this way. I would be in favor of – in general -- of no rules being the best rule. However, in this case that doesn't work. To me, I think that the historic district, by definition is a special place. It's got national recognition. It's got its boundaries, and it has a purpose. There are three kinds of of short-term rentals, as you know. You know, you've got your bed and breakfasts, that's taken care of we don't deal with them right now. But as far as the other two, which are whole home or whole house or the home stay where the owner is in the house that contains the rented unit bedroom.

So the question is, where does family come in on this? And the answer to me is in the historic district, let's just confine to that, that's a 50-year project plus that has been underway as a residential community for, you know, five decades or so that it's been going on. If whole home short-term rentals encourages the use of owners who are absentee, to me the family litmus test on that says well, wait a second, is that the right thing for a residential neighborhood or this residential neighborhood? Is that a good thing for families to have this in and out? And to me, that doesn't meet the standard. However, when we get to the question about homestay where you own a house and you're renting out a bedroom or two, and I live next door to you and maybe don't like that, the question becomes family neutral. And so, I'm not saying that family is applicable to every case. What I am saying is that I will apply it to every case and see if it is. And the more family friendly we can become, the better.

RLH: Perry Fisher, you claim that you have the best, and I have not checked this I must say, but you write you have the best accumulated voting record of all nine candidates for city council, according to the North Carolina Board of Election.

PF: That's exactly right.

PF: Why is that important to you? Why do you hold that up? What do municipal elections and a voting record, what does that mean to you?

PF: Well, I'm old enough that I had civics class; I don't know that they still have them anymore. You wouldn't know to see what the turnouts are. There are four candidates that are running for city council, or three actually, that averaged two or more elections a year, which is the most you can do in New Hanover County. The database for the state goes back to 1992. And of those eight candidates, like you said, I have voted in more than any. Now, what does that mean? Does that make me a better person than they are? No. Does that mean that I would be a better council person than they are? No. It does mean something though; it means something consistently. It means that American citizenship means something. To anybody who goes out and votes, whenever they have a chance, especially if they take the time to become informed, I just think it's part of what we're supposed to do.

RLH: You say that a current Wilmington city council member suggested that you run. Who was it, and where did that suggestion come from?

PF: I try not to use names, actually.

RLH: Go ahead and drop names here.

PF: OK, I'll do one just because you asked. It was Neil Anderson, and I saw him at a coffee shop that I go to daily, and he's in from time to time, and it was right after the registration period began. And he said Perry you ought to run. And I said Neil one of these days I'll have you over to my house, and I'll take you into my bedroom and show you the closet, and we can look at all the skeletons. He said oh it will just make it fun. But the truth is I had always been thinking of doing something like this. It might even be related to being devoted so often for so long. But, you know, the time just seemed right. And, you know, I guess there are some people who, you know, are approached frequently about doing something, but I thought that it was, you know, he didn't have to say anything to me. I was delighted that he said anything.

RLH: WAVE transit, public transportation in Wilmington and New Hanover County has faced a tough road in terms of keeping regular predictable funding, expanding its choice, its base of choice riders. Those are people who choose to ride the system who have other options. Some local policy makers say that WAVE transit should be funded at a minimal level, just what government is required to do for those who need that transportation. Others say we need to expand the number of choice riders here, and where do you fall on the issue? How would you want to fund it?

PF: I would want to know more. I just don't know the answer to that question, Rachel. I've ridden on the bus. I rode on a bus one day this summer just for the sake of riding on the bus, and it occurred to me how difficult life would be if I had to ride on the bus to go everywhere I wanted to go.

RLH: Well, let's play this out a little farther. We know that this area is seeing a spike in population; more and more people are moving into the area, and if we stick to this accelerated growth rate we could have 50,000 more people in this area by the year 2040. That's less than half a century away. What would you do as a member of city council to plan for that kind of population spike?

PF: You mean only as far as mass transit goes here or anything?

RLH: Yeah, how do we need to prepare for that?

PF: That's a very good question, and I think that our growth has to be thoughtful. I think that if voters in Wilmington have confidence or have confidence in their county commission and the city council, I think that if they think, you know, they're doing things thoughtfully then that's good.

We have a project out there at Kerr and Randall called Aspen Heights that is very difficult to look at. For me, it's crowded. It's close to the road, and I haven't spoken with anybody who has seen it who is satisfied with it.  That was a mistake on the council's part. That doesn't make the council bad, but it was a mistake in my view. I think our growth has to reflect the best of who we are, the best of what Wilmington is, among other things, is trees. I don't see any reason in the world why we shouldn't be able to require that a row of trees be planted on the perimeter of these developments, so that the natural beauty of the area can be enhanced. What we see now is people so close to the road they could almost open drive-thrus.

RLH: And that's all the time we have.

PF: No.

RLH: Yes, it flies. That's it, and thanks so much Perry Fisher for being with us today.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.