I attended the Station Area Development meeting last week and came away disheartened. Perhaps horrified is a better word.

The stated purpose of the meeting was to garner public input for anticipated development in the area surrounding the Red Line commuter rail station. Unfortunately, it appeared as though the real purpose of the meeting was to be able to say that there was a meeting and that the public was involved in developing a plan that was already a done deal.

We were first informed the plan calls for adding 2,000 housing units in the half-mile radius around the proposed Red Line station. The planning manager was unable to estimate the cost to the town of this massive development. She was unable to discuss the proposed change to the very nature of Davidson. Several questions were diverted by comments that station area development had nothing to do with the Red Line. “Station Area” has nothing to do with the Red Line?

Given that about a third of the properties within a half mile radius of the proposed Red Line station is tax exempt and not subject to development (Davidson College, various churches, the town office complex), 2,000 additional housing units means crowding in an additional 8,000 people into an area of just over a half a square mile. Add in the existing population, and we’re talking about a population density that starts to rival Manhattan.

The consultant blithely presented photos of suburbs of New York City and Chicago as good examples of what Davidson might look like. In the case of Larchmont, N.Y., we saw high-rise apartments. In the case of Chicago, we saw a huge commuter rail station surrounded by large-scale commercial development. Neither case was particularly attractive and certainly not something that you would want Davidson to look like.

The subject of traffic was not discussed. Davidson already has a major problem with traffic in the downtown area and adding 3,000 to 4,000 additional cars (at 1.5-2.0 cars per housing unit) is just going to make it worse.

The Red Line could not justify its half billion dollar cost with only 3,000-5,000 commuters a day, so the new justification is a freight corridor. When you add in several hundred 18 wheel trucks a week on N.C. 115, Concord Road and Main Street struggling to make it from the Red Line freight corridor to the interstates you have a recipe for a real traffic disaster.

What’s the cost of the Red Line to Davidson? Is it $28 million based on a proportional share of the half billion dollar cost? Is it the very nature of the town? It’s curious that the half-mile radius from the station is the same area as the tax district that is proposed to pay for the Red Line. Are we so frantic to support a railroad to nowhere that we are going to ruin Davidson?

At first I thought the Red Line was “MI Connection – the sequel.” Now I believe it is better called “Train Wreck.”

– Tom MacDonald, Davidson