It’s no surprise that the residents in the Town of Summerfield were disappointed that the NC General Assembly tore nearly 1,000 acres away from their town and put it into unincorporated Guilford County; but what is surprising is that, in the wake of that act – which will lead to a large residential development that many in the town have been fighting for years – is that the town is even more divided now than ever.

In recent years, it seemed as though the Town of Summerfield couldn’t possibly get any more divided than it already was.

The current fallout is, of course, over the battle as to whether farmer and developer David Couch should be approved to build a 1,000-acre residential and mixed-use development in the way, and with the density, he would like.  Now, the Town of Summerfield will have zero say in the matter and the fallout and the finger-pointing is as bad as ever.

For instance, Summerfield Facebook pages – “Stand Up for Summerfield,” “Summerfield Strong” and “Keep Summerfield Rural” are quarreling.

 It’s all a part of the blame game that’s being played by many factions in the town of about 11,000.

Many blame state legislators; others mostly blame NC Sen. Phil Berger; of course, “greed” by Developer David Couch is in the mix as well. The mayor of Summerfield blames four town councilmembers who many in Summerfield have dubbed the “Fatal Four” of the five-member Town Council.  The pro-development forces in the town blame the anti-development forces and vice versa.

A post on the Summerfield Strong Facebook page stated, “A long post on the Stand Up for Summerfield’ Facebook page called us ‘a particularly bitter, malicious FB page which did nothing to help stop de-annexation” and said we are ‘downright gleeful and now want our charter revoked.’”

The post went on to say that the administrator of “Keep Summerfield Rural,” “swung by our page to attack [A Town Council member’s] family yet again and accused them of being ‘hell bent on refusing to do anything to actually stop this from happening.’

“Well, the gloves have come off, haven’t they!!? We knew they would,” the Summerfield Strong Facebook post continued.

“We submit to you that we did far more than any one of them to stop de-annexation! We did our best to warn everyone all along what was coming. It was inevitable. PREVENTION is the best cure. But they wouldn’t listen.”

And so it goes in the small town just north of Greensboro which just became a little smaller at midnight on June 30, when the legislation went into effect.

BJ Barnes, the former mayor of Summerfield and former long-time sheriff of Guilford County, told the Rhino Times, “Sadly, this was avoidable if the council of four would have stuck with the deal made with the prior Town Council. Instead, they were trying to find a way to cancel the deal which led to the mistrust by Couch, who was maligned by these folks for years.”

Current Mayor Tim Sessoms – who told the Rhino Times that he’s going to resign from that position, but isn’t sure exactly when – shares a similar view.  Before the de-annexation was finalized, he said he had “great respect” for all of the citizens who made an attempt to compromise with Couch.

Sessoms said that, for years, he led the effort when it came to opposing Couch’s development as proposed; however, he added, when it became evident that the state legislature might honor Couch’s request to remove nearly 1,000 acres from the town and let Couch have the development with the density he wanted, it became crystal clear that compromise was necessary.

The Summerfield mayor said that, if the council had worked with Couch and allowed development – all while protecting the water and septic systems in the town –  Summerfield could have maintained some control over how things transpired.

“That would have been a better path,” Sessoms said.

Don Wendelken, who owns the Summerfield News website and newspaper, followed the discussions in the legislature closely and went down to Raleigh to cover a protest rally. He said that the discussions on the NC House floor surprised him to the extent that many legislators weren’t up to speed on the facts of the case.  He said there was a lot of misinformation spouted off about Summerfield.

That’s one reason that many are pointing fingers at the NC House members for not doing their homework and properly vetting the situation before voting.

Long-time and outspoken Summerfield resident Dwayne Crawford had a whole lot to say about the matter.  Before the final NC House of Representative vote that sealed the deal, Crawford sent a long email to media outlets and legislators in which he stated that the action under consideration by the NC General Assembly rested on lies and baseless claims.

He said the first baseless claim was that “The Town of Summerfield does not provide statutorily required services.”

“The Town of Summerfield became incorporated in 1996 per House Bill 576.” he wrote.  “At that time and for many, many years after, the only statutorily required service any new town must provide was ‘Enforcement of State Building Code’…  The Town of Summerfield provides, as allowed by Statute, building code enforcement via Guilford County planning and inspections department.”

Crawford also wrote before the votes by the NC House that, “Any vote today made conditional on statutory ‘deficient service delivery’ by Town of Summerfield is baseless.  If the Legislature does not like what services a municipality is statutorily required to offer – you have the power to correct that legal problem. You do not have the power to make decisions to de-annex Developer Couch’s 5 percent of the Town of Summerfield based on nonexistent or false understandings of statutes.”

Crawford stated that some of the other baseless claims he’d heard tossed around were that the “Town of Summerfield does not offer any meaningful services to its citizens,”  “People have died in the Town of Summerfield due to a lack of adequate municipal water for fire protection,” and that “There is no affordable housing in Summerfield.”

On that last point, he wrote: “The problem is that all the affordable housing in Summerfield rarely comes up for sale – nobody wants to move.”

It’s certainly true that a lot of members of the House of Representatives were dismayed to see that the NC Senate had married the highly controversial Summerfield de-annexation bill onto an unrelated and relatively non-controversial bill that the House had already passed.  When the bill the House had passed came back to them for a vote – after the Senate tacked on the Summerfield de-annexation – many House members were unfamiliar with the Summerfield situation.  In the end, the bill did pass because there was a lot of support for the non-controversial bill that the de-annexation had been tacked onto.

Much of the vitriol from Summerfield residents was directed toward NC Senator Phil Berger, who played the largest role in jamming the legislation through.

Summerfield citizens are, on the other hand, defending those who did not want to see the measure pass.

One Facebook poster wrote, “Vote John Blust this November! John has always stood up to Phil Berger when he was in Raleigh. Truly disappointed in John Faircloth for voting for this bill!”

Blust spoke against the move at a Save Summerfield protest rally in Raleigh held before the first of the House’s two votes.

One Facebook poster wrote, “During debate House members on both sides agreed that putting de-annexation in House Bill 909 broke all the rules by neglecting it to go through proper committees yet it passed anyway. I guess there are no rules or protocols for wealthy elites.”

Another Facebook poster stated, “Well for whatever good it may do, boycott everything Couch related…vote against all incumbents and pray to save our town!,” while yet another wrote. “Berger NEEDS TO GET THE BOOT before he has the chance to destroy another NC small town!!!! Rockingham needs a good write-in candidate!”

One well-known long-time Summerfield resident who asked not to be identified said that, though he hated to see this de-annexation take place, it was almost a relief at this point because he couldn’t imagine how tense the negotiations between Couch and the town would be going forward if the state had voted down the de-annexation and the two parties had to head back to square one.