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Effort To Incorporate The Community Of Denver Continues With 2020 Goal

The community of Denver has boomed with its proximity to Lake Norman, and so have the needs for infrastructure improvements. There’s a lot of agreement about that, but how to deal with it is another matter. 

A petition to incorporate Denver didn’t get enough signatures last fall to get legislative consideration, but the battle over incorporation is still raging.

Strip malls scattered near the primary roads in Denver, highways 16 and 73, have grocery stores, a post office, and pretty much everything you’d expect in a town. Including traffic.

But Denver isn’t a town. That confuses Susan Waters.

“I don’t understand why we’re not a town,” Waters said. “You don’t understand, you’ve got to pay taxes to take care of things.” 

Credit denvernc.org
The proposed Town of Denver.

One Denver resident, Martin Oakes wants to change that, he wants citizens to vote on incorporation in Denver. 

Oakes is a former County commissioner who’s trying to get more than 2,000 signatures to get state approval before residents would vote. 

The petition started last June, and only got 740 signatures by the November cutoff date. Now, the next time incorporation could be considered is 2020.

Oakes sees incorporation as the solution for dealing with growth. And he’s keeping up the fight.

“At some point, people will get fed up with the amount of development and the amount of traffic, and they’ll get annoyed and really want a town,” Oakes said. “So our current thinking is to get a town in place with a lot of restrictions on how big it can go.”

There’s only one official town in Lincoln County, that’s Lincolnton with a population of nearly 11,000. 

Credit denvernc.org
The logo for the incorporation effort.

Oakes says adding a town board and manager would allow Denver to take more local control of problems they’re already facing, namely: street maintenance, street construction, street lighting and zoning.

The 22,500-person proposed town would have five town commissioners and a manager. And, it would levy taxes.

That’s the point of a lot of friction.

Karen Newman, who moved from New York last year to a 55-and-over community just off Highway-16 wants no part of a town.

“I think if it becomes incorporated, the taxes are going to go up quite a bit,” Newman said. “That’s a big factor here.”

The petition calls for at least five cents per $100 property tax rate but caps the rate at 12 cents unless citizens vote to raise it in the future.

Signs can be found on main roads near businesses, and in front lawns across the community that read, “No incorporation, no new taxes,” in yellow and red.

On social media, the debate is even more lively.

The Citizens Against Denver Incorp. Facebook group has more than 1,000 members.

More than a thousand people are members of a Facebook group called “Citizens Against Denver Incorp.”

Troy Perry is one of the group administrators. Sitting on his front porch, you can see construction of new subdivisions, and others that have been built recently.

To Perry, the original name of the effort to incorporate says it all. The plan was to call it “the Village of Denver,” which he likens to an overreaching homeowners association. 

“Can everybody afford to live up to the standard that somebody who lives in a really nice lake community -- can they afford to live up to that standard?” Perry asked.

Credit Cole del Charco / WFAE
The view from Troy Perry's front porch shows newer developments, and, toward the horizon, construction.

Perry points out that the proposal has changed several times since the petition began. One of the other arguments against incorporation is a distrust for government.

“Let me be clear -- there are things that we need the government for, there’s no question about that, but I think those things are very limited,” Perry said. “If I’m already getting them, why do I need another layer to then charge me for the same thing?”

In the Facebook group, some think incorporation would change their lifestyle in an area that’s traditionally been rural, and worry zoning rules could change that. There’s an online petition from those against incorporation with 1,300 signatures.

In the fall, Perry and others held a town hall with hundreds expressing dissent against incorporation.

But, Oakes and others leading the incorporation effort say they want to leave things that are working under county control like it is now. That means policing would be left to the Lincoln County sheriff's’ department and the area would still be served by the local volunteer fire department. 

Oakes says he’s confident he can get 15 percent of the area’s voters to sign a petition for an incorporation vote in Nov. of 2020.

But, Denver’s N.C. House Representative Jason Saine isn’t so sure. 

He says it’s an area where people are fiercely independent, and their government philosophy is, “less is more.”

“For a group of people who by and large don’t look to government for solutions anyway, there’s not a whole lot of driver for them to be looking for another layer of government and higher taxes,” Saine said.

There’s a new petition, and Oakes hopes the publicity from the first time around will lead to more signatures.

The broadcast version of this story incorrectly stated the property tax rate under the proposal would be five percent. The property tax rate would be five cents per $100. WFAE regrets the error.

Cole del Charco is a journalist, writer and radio producer from Hickory, North Carolina.