© 2023 254 North Front Street, Suite 300, Wilmington, NC 28401 | 910.343.1640
News Classical 91.3 Wilmington 92.7 Wilmington 96.7 Southport
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Nikolai Mather takes us through the most significant municipal elections in rural Cape Fear this year.

Burgaw candidates discuss development, schools at candidate forum

Four candidates for Burgaw's board of town commissioners sit on a stage before a crowd. The town seal, which depicts a train pulling into a station, is mounted on the wall behind them. Three of the candidates are older white men, and one is an older white women. They look inquisitively at the man on the left, who is speaking.
Four candidates (L-R Bill George, Vernon Harrell, Rochelle Whiteside and William Rivenbark) attended a candidate forum in Burgaw on Thursday.

There are six candidates running for the Board of Town Commissioners of Burgaw in Pender County.

On Oct. 14, the Pender-Topsail Post and Voice held a candidate forum at Burgaw Town Hall for the upcoming municipal election. Four of the six candidates for town commissioner attended, answering questions from an audience of about thirty residents.

Here are WHQR's highlights.

Growth management

Three candidates who came to the forum — Rochelle Whiteside, Bill George and Vernon Harrell — were born and raised in Burgaw. The lone transplant was candidate William Rivenbark.

"I'm the newcomer in town. I've only been here 36 years," he joked.

But Burgaw has recently started to attract actual newcomers — mostly, George said, young professionals looking for a small town close to Wilmington. He said that he liked having them here, but their presence sometimes triggered growing pains for the town's infrastructure.

"I love the growth coming," he said. "But I want everyone to have the same privilege that I have."

Candidates agreed that the water and sewer systems were in a good state, and discussed future improvements. They also all approved of the growth, but spoke out against what Harrell referred to as high-density housing.

"I think that people that own their own homes … have that for a reason," he said. "They like to have their space, and to some extent their privacy. And if you have a large housing development going in next to you that involves townhomes and apartments, it makes it difficult."

Connecting with schools

Whiteside and Rivenbark are both former Pender County Schools educators. Whiteside used to serve on the Pender County School board. She wants the town to do more to work with Pender County Schools.

"People who think about wanting to live here will go, 'I don't know if I want to come here with my young child [for school],'" she said. "That's the one hold out."

She and Rivenbark had some ideas for expanding Pender High School's current offerings.

"At Topsail High School, when they graduate… they're SafeServe certified," she said. "We don't even have a Home Ec department. So what can we do to help facilitate that?"

"Pender is stuck out there in nowhere. It feels like they're out there fighting their own battles by themselves," Rivenbark added. "Let's get the truck, let's go out there and talk to the people."

Other topics

Candidates also discussed the long-delayed Highway 53 bypass project, which was put on hold several years ago. The board of commissioners has started thinking about launching the project again.

Those present were unanimous: traffic was worsening in downtown Burgaw, and the bypass would help.

"There's a lot of truck traffic coming through [downtown Burgaw]," said George. "I think that a bypass would be good."

"The traffic that we have on Wilmington Street now is, in large part, traffic that will be diverted by bypass," said Harrell. "I was for the bypass in the past, I am for the bypass now, and I will be for the bypass in the future."

They also discussed working with the county commission, preserving the downtown's trees, and expanding opportunities for small businesses.

Early voting in Pender County begins Oct. 19. Election day is Nov. 7.

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.