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"Shut the hell up!": Brunswick County development meeting gets heated

Brunswick County NAACP president Carl Parker and county commissioner Mike Forte shout at each other at a community meeting. They're standing under a covered picnic area in Waccamaw Park, gesticulating at each other. They're surrounded by a couple dozen residents of Ash, who are mostly white and middle-aged, and a few representatives of Thomas and Hutton, who are all middle-aged white men.
Contributed by Kelsey Alexandria Small
A screenshot of a Facebook livestream of the Ashton Farms meeting depicting Brunswick County NAACP president Carl Parker and county commissioner Mike Forte exchanging some words.

A Wednesday night meeting devolved into chaos as Ash residents opposed a 3,000-home development near their small community in unincorporated Brunswick County.

A Brunswick County community meeting devolved into chaos on Wednesday.

Dozens of people showed up for a meeting at Waccamaw Park about the proposed mixed-use development Ashton Farms, which engineering firm Thomas and Hutton is backing. The firm hopes to construct 2,750 single family homes and 200 townhomes in the small unincorporated community of Ash, which is located near the South Carolina border.

At the meeting, locals strongly objected to the plan, saying Ash's infrastructure was not strong enough to deal with an influx of over 3,000 new households. Ash resident Christie Marek started a petition opposing the development on Sept. 13. She spoke about it at the meeting.

"As of right now, I have 900 signatures against this," she said.

Brunswick County is the fastest growing county in North Carolina, increasing by 8,250 residents from 2021 to 2022. But Marek wrote in her petition that the growth is heavily skewed.

"We are short workers all over the county right now, fast food, blue collar, and low income workers," she stated. "I'm a business owner myself and its [sic] hard finding workers throughout the years. These homes they are building are NOT for these families! These homes are for [the] middle to high class, retirement, vacation, half year, investment, and AirBnB homes."

The meeting was contentious. Locals and officials alike stood on picnic tables and shouted in order to be heard. At one point, county commissioner Mike Forte got into a verbal altercation with county NAACP president Carl Parker.

"Shut the hell up!" he said to Parker.

A Brunswick County sheriff's deputy stepped in after the exchange to settle everyone down. Eventually, locals split off to talk with developers individually. They complained about the potential impact of the homes on the school system, local wildlife and traffic.

The proposed development will likely be a discussion topic for Brunswick County's planning board. A spokesperson for Brunswick County told WHQR the Ash development will not be up for discussion at the next meeting, which is on Oct. 9.

Note: WHQR contacted Thomas and Hutton, as well as Commissioner Forte, for comment. This article will be updated with any response we receive.

Nikolai Mather is a Report for America corps member from Pittsboro, North Carolina. He covers rural communities in Pender County, Brunswick County and Columbus County. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with degrees in genocide studies and political science. Prior to his work with WHQR, he covered religion in Athens, Georgia and local politics in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his spare time, he likes working on cars and playing the harmonica. You can reach him at nmather@whqr.org.