Comparing the Influence of the Swift Creek/Middle Creek Homeowners Association and the Umstead Coalition in Altering Land Use Decisions

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Master of Natural Resources Professional Papers (North Carolina State University. College of Natural Resources)

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North Carolina State University. College of Natural Resources


Swaim, Criss. Master of Natural Resources – Assessment and Analysis Technical Option. Comparing the Influence of the Swift Creek/Middle Creek Homeowners Association and the Umstead Coalition in Altering Land Use Decisions This study utilizes a comparative case study method to evaluate the influence of two non-profit organizations active in the mid-1990s on land use decisions. In Wake County, North Carolina, the Middle Creek/Swift Creek Community Alliance and the Umstead Coalition worked to protect a parcels of land considered critical for environmental integrity and water quality. The Middle Creek/Swift Creek Community Alliance was focused on enforcing building regulations for the drinking water watershed and the Umstead Coalition defeated the building of a connector road, the Duraleigh Connector, through the Richland Creek cooridor. Each organization was evaluated from the perspectives of context, activities and outcomes achieved. Organizational histories and land use histories set the context for conflicts over development in watersheds that were considered environmentally sensitive. A narrative of the conflicts was then developed primarily from newspaper accounts. Using a policy science framework to map the social processes involved in each case, the outcomes were evaluated in terms of relationships between decision makers and organizations. As a final analysis, the outcomes were compared against each other to answer questions about the effectiveness of the activities. The results of the self-assessment were mixed. One organization expressed frustration and ineffectiveness while the other perceived success. In both of these cases, the effectiveness of actions to stop specific projects was evaluated differently even though in both cases the protested projects were not built. Effectiveness appears to be linked to four parameters: (1) Size of the issue - If the issue a narrowly defined project, like a road or dam, an organization can be very effective at influencing the policy process. However, if the issue a long-term, regional wide issue like watershed water quality protection, there does not appear to be the ability to control the outcomes. (2) Size of the organization – The size of the organization directly affects the influence of an organization. A larger membership has more avenues of contact to the decision makers and they are able to leverage those relationships to get a voice at the decision table. (3) Communication techniques – Dialogue that brings about viable solutions rather than polarizing positions tends to encourage discourse and bring legitimacy to the decision making process. (4) Use of science – Scientific information was not used in the process to develop viable alternatives. Rather, the tendency was use it to support pre-formed positions. The critical parameter appears to be the size of the membership. A large, well-connected membership has many avenues through which it can pursue influencing the decision making process. How well an organization manages these parameters can alter the outcomes if the activities lead to achieving a focused objective, such as stopping a road or advocating for a particular solution. However, when a broader objective, such as the protection of watershed water quality, is the goal, organizations tend to have difficulty achieving their outcomes. In each case discussed, when the broader goal of watershed water quality was evaluated, both watersheds were labeled impaired and unable to support the intended biotic functions. This calls into question the ability of non-profit organizations to protect environmental integrity.



Swift Creek, Umstead State Park, land use, environmental advocacy, water quality