The Greensboro Zoning Administration presented two odd recommendations at the Monday, Oct. 8 meeting of the Greensboro Zoning Commission, both of which the commissioners disregarded.
The recommendations seem to show a superficial and inconsistent approach zoning cases.
The most glaring bad advice from staff was a recommendation to deny a request to rezone a property at 3411 and 3501 Groometown Road from Conditional District – Residential Multi Family-8 (CD-RM-8) to Conditional District – Commercial Medium (CD-C-M)
The staff's recommendation was based on the assertion that the character of the neighborhood was residential and building a commercial shopping center was premature because of the residential zoning surrounding it.
However, the applicant, George Venters, for property owners Gene and Betty Petty, said the area was already in transition and pointed out that much of the nearby housing that staff was referring to was dilapidated, demolished or rental property.
Venters had met with the surrounding neighborhood and had signatures from most of the adjacent property owners approving of the rezoning and commercial development.
Venters emphasized that a "common theme" when they were talking with home owners was that they did not want a multi-family development on the site, which is what it is currently zoned for. He also mentioned that many neighbors had considered selling their property for commercial uses.
The property owner Ronald Petty said the area was very different from when the houses were built, "and not for the better." He said the neighborhood had been in decline since the construction of the outer loop.
There is also a shopping center within 600 feet of the property. The owner of the center, Kent Johnson, opposed the request but claimed he was representing himself and others as a resident, not a business owner. He raised concerns over additional traffic that would be caused by the development and questioned how it would fit with the surrounding area.
Johnson also submitted a petition with signatures from residents, many of whom he said lived outside of the 600 foot notification area.
Petty pointed out that Johnson's residential property was about a mile and a half from the site in question, and that he suspected Johnson's main concern was that the proposed development would compete with his shopping center.
During the discussion, Commissioner Russ Parmele, who said he drives through the area regularly, said, "indeed, it has a feel of a commercial quarter."
Parmele added that although the development would intrude into an otherwise residential area, "You've got to kick-start that development to some degree. Clearly it's been stalling out for several years, for many reasons."
Commissioner Rick Pinto commented that he did not understand staff's recommendation to deny.
"Having been out there, commercial is the only thing that is going to happen on this lot, that close to the highway, and the neighbors are not against it. I don't know what else you could do with that property," said Pinto.
Commissioner Janet Mazzurco made the motion to approve the rezoning request. The motion passed 8 to 0 with Zoning Commission Chair Mary Skenes and Commissioners Mazzurco, Parmele, Pinto, Ralph Johnson, Cyndy Hayworth, Paul Gilmer and James Griffin voting in favor. Commissioner Peter Placentino was absent.
In another questionable move, staff recommended approval of a request to amend the zoning of a lot at 4200 and 4206 United Street to allow applicant Mike Nicholson to operate a used car lot and vehicle service business at the entrance of Highland Park, a small, thriving, tight-knit residential neighborhood.
Nicholson's request was to strike several conditions from the 2007 rezoning of the property to Conditional District – Commercial – Medium (CD-C-M), which prohibited the service and sale of vehicles.
Nicholson said he planned to service vehicles in four bays and sell used cars from an existing parking lot on the 1.17 acre lot, which he said he believed could fit 45 to 50 cars in "a nice organized manner."
When Parmele asked Nicholson about traffic concerns, he responded that people do a lot of their car shopping on the internet these days, so there wouldn't be a lot of people hanging around browsing the lot at any given time.
"Today car buying is very specific, thanks to the internet. It cuts down a lot on traffic."
Several residents of the surrounding neighborhood came out in opposition to the request, and some expressed deep distrust of Nicholson as a businessman.
Julie Schindler, co-chair of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association said that the neighborhood meeting Nicholson had held to discuss the rezoning had been unsatisfactory.
"We set up the meeting, he refused to answer any questions saying, 'that goes to land use I'm not required to answer that,'" said Schindler, describing the meeting as "completely non-productive."
Schindler emphasized that her neighborhood was a small, "walkable" community with many elderly residents who didn't use vehicles and walked to nearby grocery stores and for other services. She said the auto sales and service would increase traffic and not add to the neighborhood.
Schindler also accused Nicholson of "surreptitiously" videotaping the meeting, and said that the neighbors had called the police to have Nicholson erase the tape after they saw him retrieve it at the end of the meeting, which took place in a church.
Nicholson did not respond to the secret videotaping accusation but said that he felt some of the questions he was asked at the neighborhood meeting, which he said included questions about his business plan and business partners, seemed inappropriate to him. "I tried to tell everybody that we were there to talk about the use of the land and not about me," Nicholson said.
During rebuttal, neighborhood resident Joe Wood questioned the rationale behind lifting the restrictions. "This same body in its wisdom five years ago refused automobile sales on this property. What has changed in five years?"
Wood also criticized Nicholson's claims about the Internet's role in car sales. "If you were on the internet looking to buy a car, knowing full well that there are dozens of used and new car lots on Wendover, would you look on the web for Honest Mike's used cars tucked away in a residential neighborhood to buy your car?" he said.
The general consensus of the commission was that the used car lot was not a good fit for the neighborhood, which they agreed was primarily residential area.
Hayworth, who used to live in the area, said the neighborhood had come "full circle" in the last several years, and while it may have been in transition at one point, was now a cohesive, well-balanced community where the residents took pride in their property.
She said she felt the used car lot would not be a good fit for the area. "I would really hate to see that balance shift the other way," said Hayworth. "I'm afraid that if something like this does go on that corner, that you are going to see an exit out of the neighborhood again."