Getting a different view from old cornfield

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 2, 2024

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Ron Willard looked like anyone else walking through all the rows with booths at the recent Clemmons Community Day at the Jerry Long YMCA.

But knowing the back story, when I ran into him on that beautiful Saturday morning, I knew this same land held a special place in his heart some 35 years ago when Willard played a key role in helping make a Y in western Forsyth a reality.

“It was 16 acres of corn,” he said of the property on Peace Haven Road in the early days of Clemmons when Willard was actually the first “interim mayor.”

“Talk about a Y? You’ve got to have a little vision about stuff. We just had to find some land. The only thing here was that Shell station and a Kentucky Fried Chicken and West Forsyth High School. People said, ‘ya’ll are out in the country. We don’t want anything out in the country.’ ”

It’s hardly in the country anymore in Clemmons, which has a population well above 20,000 and continues to grow.

The Y was actually a dream of Jerry Long, who was president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco in the late 1980s and worked there with Willard at the time. Although consultants hired by the Y felt like it wouldn’t succeed, Long and Willard thought they knew the Clemmons market better than those making the recommendation.

And they were right.

Willard said that the prediction provided by the consultants called for 1,300 members within three to five years.

“The first week we had 1,500,” Willard said.

Long passed away in 2010, a year after the West Forsyth YMCA was named in his honor, but that vision lives on.

And now… How about 16,000?

“It’s the Village Recreation Department,” Willard said with a laugh.

Willard, who admits that he is “probably the only person that you know or ever will know that was born in Old Salem,” grew up in Winston-Salem but has made Clemmons home — and been a leader in the community — ever since.

He makes it a point to get to Clemmons Community Day every year. From rows of corn to rows of booths with more than 100 vendors in the field in front of a thriving Y… 

Things change.

“It’s amazing,” he said.

• • • •

Carl Carney, who is president of Davie Construction, had the quote of the year in last month’s Bermuda Run Town Council meeting as the only one to speak in favor of a potential multi-use housing development of up to 520 units.

“Sheetz, Chick-fil-A, all the people that are here, the DOT, all the road work has been put in place,” Carney said. “They didn’t come here because they think it’s going to be flowers and cows over there.”

Of course, the overflow crowd was opposed to the project because of many of the typical reasons of any small town that is growing at a rapid rate. You know — the impact on traffic, noise, stormwater, environment, quality of life, etc.

With the Hall Walker Development, which is located behind Sheetz close to the N.C. 801/Yadkin Valley Road intersection, the vote involved a 10/70 permit request and an annexation request. Plus, the developers had already purchased the property and it was a no longer if they built, but what and how they would build with the zoning and land use already in place. In fact, it was explained in the meeting that if the 10/70 was not allocated that the project would be all apartments instead a more preferred combination of townhomes and apartments.

Carney, who builds throughout the Southeast and especially in North Carolina, shared an interesting tidbit about another 10/70 provision previously involving Bermuda Run.

“I don’t know how many of people in this room live in Kinderton, but three-fourths of you would not be here had it not been for the 10/70 rule being wisely allocated years ago so that project could happen,” he said, adding the current need for available housing in the town.

“I mean, this neighborhood is in the perfect spot across from Baptist Medical Center to build quality housing spread out over an area that will be an asset to our community,” he concluded.

• • • •

Oh, just a word of warning to West Forsyth High School graduates if you already don’t know… The 2024 graduation ceremony at the LJVM Coliseum will be Saturday, June 8, at 8 a.m.

That’s right. 8 in the morning! So be ready to rise and shine bright and early — or maybe don’t even bother going to sleep at all the night before.