Cumberland County residents tell us what's good here and what needs to be improved

·8 min read

The positives of a community are often touted by public officials, but what do the residents think?

The Fayetteville Observer conducted an online survey in July that received more than 100 responses from residents in Cumberland County. The majority of the responses were from Fayetteville residents, followed by people who live in Hope Mills and Spring Lake, and a few from Eastover, Linden, Stedman and Wade. There were four responses from people in an unincorporated area of Cumberland County.

In the survey, we asked readers to consider any or all of the following aspects in their responses: local government; housing; cost of living; employment; education; healthcare; business; public transport; walkability; greenspaces; shopping; dining; entertainment; recreation; community involvement; culture; activities; atmosphere and environment (both physical and community); and aesthetics.

The Good

What we asked: In what ways does this area really shine? What are the best aspects of living in your specific area? What do you brag about to people who haven't been here before or who don't live here? What makes Cumberland County or your municipality home for you?

How they answered: The sense of community, the diversity and the entertainment options were most frequently cited as positive aspects of living in the Fayetteville area.

Fayetteville PrideFest on Saturday, June 25, 2022, at Festival Park.
Fayetteville PrideFest on Saturday, June 25, 2022, at Festival Park.

The area attracts many visitors with its various festivals including the Juneteenth Festival, Pride Festival, International Folk Festival, Dogwood Festival, Greek Festival, Taco and Beer Festival, Fayetteville Comic-Con and Christmas event, A Dickens Holiday.

Paola Salas, who grew up in the city, said the International Folk Festival was a big part of her childhood here.

"That was the first time where you'd see like all the different foods from all the different places where people come from," she said in a phone interview. "I would participate in that too, immigrating from Panama."

Cool Springs Downtown District, which began in 2017, organized four events in its first year, increasing to 52 in 2021, according to Bianca Shoneman, president and CEO of the organization.

Shoneman said the organization has seen a 21% increase in the value of downtown properties.

She said the organization saw a 78% increase in event attendance between 2019 and 2021.

"Downtowns are the heart and souls of our communities," Shoneman said. "They're an indicator of our social and economic trends. And our downtown, specifically, is coming back to life."

Dancers representing Panama participate in the annual Parade of Nations at the 2019 International Folk Festival.
Dancers representing Panama participate in the annual Parade of Nations at the 2019 International Folk Festival.

Working to increase diversity and entertainment in Fayetteville is something the city's mayor, Mitch Colvin, said has been a priority of his for several years.

"We have increased collaboration with Cool Springs District, we support festivals, we emphasize the importance of having more entertainment and diversity of entertainment with all of our partners who do events in the downtown area," he said.

It's the diversity of the community that Colvin cites as a positive aspect of the city.

"I've said all along, our diversity is the strength of the community," he said. "The more we learn about one another, and respect each other's differences, I think we'll become a stronger, tighter community."

A sense of community is also apparent in Hope Mills, according to Mayor Jackie Warner.

"I see it in our schools, how there's strong school spirit. I see in our parks and rec, you go down to the lake and the activities that we have are family-oriented," she said.

More: Here are 6 festivals happening this fall in Fayetteville

The Bad

What we asked: What are the negatives? Where do you think there's room to improve, or how are we not living up to our potential? What's the biggest change that needs to occur, and what needs to happen to get us there?

How they answered: The top cons to living in the area, according to survey responses, were the high crime rates, homelessness and trash.

Between 2016 and 2021 in the city, crimes against people and property had steadily decreased, with 19,345 crimes reported in 2016 and 14,699 reported in 2021, according to the Fayetteville Police Department's first quarter annual review.

Members of the Fayetteville community voice their concerns about crime in the Fayetteville area in recent survey.
Members of the Fayetteville community voice their concerns about crime in the Fayetteville area in recent survey.

The report. however, showed a 3.2% increase in crimes against people and a 16.5% increase in property crimes from January-March 2021 compared to January-March 2022,

There was also a rise in aggravated assaults with a 47.6% increase in misdemeanors and a 5.4% increase in felonies. Misdemeanor domestic violence decreased by 4.3% between 2020 and 2021 and felonies doubled from 10 in 2020 to 20 in 2021.

"I've impressed upon the (police) chief, I think that we needed to be a little more proactive in the enforcement and our visibility," Colvin said. "I think they're working towards doing it now. So, we'll continue to try to work to make the community safer, but it's a partnership."

More: How does crime in Fayetteville this year compare to crime last year?

Illegal drugs were a particular concern of those surveyed.

According to the Police Department report, there was an increase in drugs seized by the department from January through March this year compared to the same time last year.

In 2021, 6,409 grams of cocaine were seized and in 2022, 7,184 grams were seized. In 2021, 177 grams of meth were seized and in 2022, 3,553 grams were seized. Fentanyl seizures took the biggest leap. Just 2,165 grams of fentanyl were seized in 2021 compared to 10,662 grams seized in 2022.

From January through March this year, Fayetteville also saw an increase in arrests. According to the report, there were 357 felony arrests in 2022 compared to 348 in 2021, and 742 misdemeanor arrests in 2022 compared to 695 in 2021.

According to the Hope Mills Police Department, so far this year, there have been 489 arrests  — 297 misdemeanors and 192 felonies.

There have also been 128 reports involving narcotics.

Last year, the Hope Mills Police Department made 2,884 traffic stops and so far this year, they have made 3,589 traffic stops. Overdoses, impaired driving and drug reports have decreased, while drug offense arrests have increased.

Warner said crimes like the killing of a mother and son in Village Green earlier this year are shocking for Hope Mills residents.

"We're not having the kind of crimes and things in Hope Mills that are occurring in outside areas," she said.

Volunteers help pick up trash during a community cleanup in the Massey Hill neighborhood Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Fayetteville.
Volunteers help pick up trash during a community cleanup in the Massey Hill neighborhood Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Fayetteville.

More: 'Start with one small thing': Environmental efforts in the Fayetteville area

The amount of trash is something else that has been a cause for concern for West Fayetteville residents like Harris.

"I've never seen so much trash," he said. "Where I live and where we frequently shop at, the huge Walmart that's on Raeford Road, there's several people that reside back there. There's so much trash back there. I don't know if (the city) is ignoring it or they just got other things on their agenda, but it is bad, it is really bad."

Initiatives like Fayetteville Beautiful, a city-wide cleanup twice a year, and the Five for Friday campaign, where people are asked to pick up five pieces of trash on Fridays, are part of local efforts to address litter in Fayetteville.

Warner said that she too has seen more litter on the streets.

"It is something I think everybody's concerned about," she said. "We've worked with three schools to try to get some more student awareness and then parent awareness. We recognize that we need to work together to clean up Hope Mills, but it's really better than it has been."

Warner said the town has identified problem litter areas, tried to target those areas on cleanup days and worked with Cumberland County to help with clearing the trash.

A homeless encampment just south of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway overpass, at the intersection of Gillespie and Old Elizabethtown Road.
A homeless encampment just south of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway overpass, at the intersection of Gillespie and Old Elizabethtown Road.

In the survey, there were multiple complaints about the homeless in the Fayetteville area.

The city announced earlier this year that a planned homeless day center will open on King Street in 2023. The center would be a place for members of the homeless community to develop skills and get a job.

Although the center would offer resources, it will not provide overnight shelter.

"We are impressing upon the county commissioners to step up and do what other counties have done, which is provide a shelter," Colvin said. "There is no public shelter in this community, which is rare for a city our size. We stepped up and did the day center, which would provide services for people in that situation."

There are multiple homeless encampments in Fayetteville like the visible one on Gillespie Street and another near the North Carolina Veterans Park, off Hillsboro Street.

A homeless encampment near North Carolina Veterans Park.
A homeless encampment near North Carolina Veterans Park.

According to Warner, homeless camps aren't a problem for the Hope Mills area.

"Either they're begging for money or they've got something they're selling, we've seen that uptick but not so much like what you see outside of Hope Mills. That we're seeing closer to Fayetteville."

Staff writer Akira Kyles can be reached at akyles@gannett.com.

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This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: What makes Cumberland County good or bad? The community responds