Haw River, the county’s oldest and one of its smallest municipalities, has often been championed by its residents for its small-town feel and natural beauty. For its newest councilmember, Shawn Riggan, 41, those enduring qualities are something to hold to – and emphasize – as the town develops in the years ahead.
“Haw River is great, it just needs updating a little bit,” the Haw River native told The Alamance News days before he joined the town council earlier this month.
“These were people who were trying to make differences in communities, and the state, and the country. . . Presidents, and senators, and congressmen – it just trickles down. You start somewhere to try to make a difference, and this is the starting point for me to try to make a difference.” – New Haw River town councilman Shawn Riggan
Even so, Riggan, who enjoys spending much of his time outdoors with his family, is wary of the kind of expansion that could carry the town away from its easy, close-knit past and present and move it toward the fast-growing pace of other municipalities like neighboring Mebane.
“Our Main Street isn’t Main Street in Mebane,” he explained, speaking to the possibility of a revitalization of Haw River’s downtown district. “So maybe we have to redirect where our ‘Main Street’ is.”
Currently, the area Riggan referred to is under redevelopment – to an extent. The same developer who led the construction of loft-style apartments in the former Cone Mills complex has also suggested to the town’s council in the past that he would like to recruit small businesses to that stretch of Main Street. Still, Riggan explained, the relatively small stretch of vacant land along the side of the road opposite the mill isn’t necessarily suited to a bevy of businesses, leading him to suggest that the town’s broader focus extend to other areas of the town.
Overall, though, one of his primary goals is keeping the town small, with a careful balance of residences and businesses.
“I think keeping it as much a small-town community as we can possibly is for the best,” Riggan said. “Do you want to live next to an Amazon warehouse, or do you want to live somewhere and drive to your Amazon warehouse? It’s supposed to have a balance of both.
“It’s a tough deal for Haw River, and it always has been,” he added. “We want business, but at the same time we want people to want to live here.”
Councilmember’s interest in politics began during childhood
Growing up in the 1980’s, Riggan credits politicians of the time as fueling, in part, his interest in government.
“These were people who were trying to make differences in communities, and the state, and the country,” he recalled. “Presidents, and senators, and congressmen – it just trickles down. You start somewhere to try to make a difference, and this is the starting point for me to try to make a difference.”
Even more crucial to his decision to run for the town council was the encouragement he received from his uncle, David Riggan, who he credits as a source of guidance following his father’s death.
For his part, the new councilman considers his youth, relative to his fellow councilmembers, an asset for the council, telling the newspaper, “That’s not knocking who we have. If you don’t have different views from different demographics, then you’re always going to have the same trajectory. You’re never going to change and veer off course to try to do something better.”
‘I live a simple life’
The new councilman considers family paramount; he and wife Allison have two sons, and the family enjoys spending much of their time together outdoors. When away from his work at RR Donnelly Printing – Riggan has been in commercial printing for 20 years – the councilman also likes to spend downtime fishing and hiking.
“I live a simple life,” he said. “I’m not extravagant at all. I’m a very simple man. Family means everything.”
It’s that kind of ease and simplicity that Riggan appears to have in mind when imagining his ideal future for his hometown. Aside from some small housing developments and new businesses, his vision of Haw River in five years doesn’t differ much from what it was 10 or even 20 years ago. But, he noted, that doesn’t mean that the town isn’t on the road to change.
“The businesses – we want that, and I think they will, in time, come,” he told the newspaper. “Haw River has stayed idle for a while, but from what I can see, the engine is cranking up and somebody’s getting ready to put it in gear and help start moving it.”