MITTON: Big developers are threatening the essence of Hoke County

Downtown Raeford is pictured in this file photo provided by

Hoke County has burst into a new life as the community moved on from the isolation of pandemic living. And this was most apparent, at least to this longtime resident, by how many new businesses opened their doors. Downtown Raeford is vibrant, something that has felt absent these last few years. There are new shops, as well as old businesses with new ideas. 

But just as it helps to acknowledge the good, identifying the bad is equally important. Right now, the bad is the arrival of developers, who see a thriving, resurgent community, and have come looking to take advantage of it. 

At least a dozen stories of unfair development plans are circulating in our community, and all of them embody everything Hoke County isn’t. Perhaps the most instance is the attempt by J and K Contractors to rezone property off of Posey Farm Road from a Residential/Agricultural zoning to Highway/Commercial.

This application, backed by the owner of the company, Jamal Shahbain, was meant to allow them to build a storage center for the company’s construction vehicles and equipment. There were a couple of major flaws, however. One, the application didn’t obey the basic requirements of Hoke County’s ordinance with regard to the kind of road access required. And two, this is a neighborhood filled with children. Children will be leaving for or returning home from school at the same time as their construction vehicles are arriving to or leaving from job sites.

If that isn’t the kind of risk that the county’s planning office should strive to avoid, what is?

And it doesn’t end there. Shahbain, using at least 32 distinct companies he owns or manages, has purchased hundreds of acres of land across the county, most of which is either in the process of or has already been rezoned. 

As an immigrant, it might be easy to say he embodies the American Dream, especially given his personal success. The problem is that all evidence – from filing for rezoning on properties his companies don’t own in multi-property bundles, only to withdraw the application when the actual owner shows up to stop it, to the fact that he filed plans for a “low-income housing” development with a starting price of $250,000 dollars – points to a single idea; that he is placing profit and personal success above the wellbeing of Hoke County. 

I want to see this community grow and reshape itself so that it always matches the wants and needs of the citizens who live here. But this needs to be done safely and sustainably.

When speaking with Alexandra Pecore, resident of the Posey Farm Road community, wife to a disabled veteran, and a citizen leading the charge against the attempted development literally in many of their backyards, she said something that struck me. “[J and K Contractors and Mubarak Shahbain] are manipulating the data to have it say what they want it to say.” I think she has a point. 

When all you see and hear is how great it is that Hoke County is growing, it becomes difficult to imagine the negatives, but they are very real. As more land is converted for commercial purposes, Hoke needs to be careful not to forget what makes it special. 

Joe Sheets, who started the Posey Farm Road petition, says it best, in my opinion. “I assume that most families that have chosen to settle in this area have done so for the privacy and quiet that comes with living away from the city.” 

Even if you didn’t move to a county renowned for its rural lifestyle for that reason, it’s doubtful you want the increased taxes from an inflated property value rooted in overdevelopment. So, the people of this wonderful community, which we all share that we all share, need to manage its growth carefully. 

A new restaurant on Main Street in Raeford or a pool off a main road is one thing. It’s something completely different to overtake a quiet neighborhood with big businesses. 

As long as this community keeps stepping up to protect what it values, it won’t matter how unreasonable the tactics used are because that’s the real American Dream.