January 31, 2013
High Point Mayor Bernita Sims' proposal to name a High Point
street for Martin Luther King Jr. may be, as Sims said on Tuesday, Jan. 29, "an issue whose time has come." But it's also an issue with a long and tangled history in High Point
Sims suggested naming a street after the civil rights leader at a Thursday, Jan. 10 High Point
City Council work session, saying, "All of the communities that surround us have streets that are named after Dr. King ... I don't know why we are discussing this in 2013."
The City Council is discussing the issue in 2013 because at least five efforts to name a street after King have failed in High Point
– in 1991, 1992, 1993, 2001 and 2002. The closest proponents have come was a partial victory on a sixth occasion, in 1994, when East Kivett Drive was given an honorary designation as Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Drive, but not renamed.
Sims on Jan. 10 said she had Kivett Drive in mind to rename for King. Councilmember Becky Smothers said she would support renaming for King the stretch of Kivett Drive between Business 85 and Centennial Street.
Sims said this week she would bring the issue up at a City Council work session within a few weeks. The City Council does not have a work session on Thursday, Jan. 31, so the issue will probably be brought up at the Thursday, Feb. 7 work session.
In the meantime, city staff has been scrambling to detangle the long history of unsuccessful efforts to name a street after King, and to determine to what degree the name "Kivett Drive" has historical significance. Sims said she would not limit her proposal to Kivett Drive – "No, I'll take Main Street," was how she put it – but as most of the staff research is being done on Kivett Drive, it seems to be her first choice.
Sims said she wants the City Council to take the lead on the street renaming soon.
"It's probably going to take what it takes," she said. "But I'm hoping we can do this sooner rather than later and move on to something else. But it depends on the council and their readiness to deal with it."
The City Council can propose renaming a street. So can the High Point
Planning and Zoning Commission, and so can the public, if a group can get signatures from 66.67 percent of the property owners who would be affected by the renaming. According to High Point
Development Services Administrator Bob Robbins, however, the City Council does not have the authority to rename a street, unless it changes High Point
's development ordinance.
Robbins is the point man on the city staff to document the history of efforts to name a street for King. He has prepared a five-page history of such for the upcoming work session. The document also includes relevant High Point
ordinances and state laws.
"The Planning and Zoning Commission has the authority under the Development Ordinance to make the final decision regarding any street name change," Robbins wrote. "There is no appeal to the City Council."
Sims said the Planning and Zoning Commission was given final authority over street naming after earlier efforts to name streets after King. However, a zoning ordinance approved by the City Council in October 2002 details the way public petitions for name changes work and the findings the Planning and Zoning Commission must make to approve a street name change. It assumes that the Planning and Zoning Commission has the authority to do so.High Point
City Clerk Lisa Vierling said she thinks the Planning and Zoning Commission has always had that authority. She said, "To my knowledge, that's the way it's always been."
In 2002, there was an attempt by former Councilmember Ron Wilkins to get a zoning ordinance approved that would have given the City Council, not the Planning and Zoning Commission, authority to rename state roadways in High Point
. The City Council killed the proposal on a 6-to-3 vote on March 21, 2002.
Wilkins tried to get the ordinance approved because many of the streets that had been proposed to be named for King are actually state roads, including the US 311 bypass; different sections of what was then called the Intermediate Loop (now East Hartley Drive, North College Drive and South College Drive); and Kivett Drive.
Name changes of state roadways must be also be approved by the North Carolina Board of Transportation, which requires a local consensus – something that has been notably lacking in the various efforts to name a street for King.
The five attempts to name a street for King were:
1) In 1991, based on a citizen petition, the Street Naming Committee of the Planning and Zoning Commission considered naming one of five streets for King. In September 1991, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved renaming the entire Intermediate Loop Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. High Point
University, and residents of North College Drive who had recently had to change their addresses, opposed the renaming. The state Board of Transportation denied the request, citing a lack of local consensus.
2) In mid-1992, two options were suggested as streets to be renamed for King: East Kivett Drive from Centennial Street and to Business 85 and Brentwood Street. The proposal was killed after objections from the descendants of William Larkin Kivett (1864-1915), the farmer whose 240-acre property, at what is now 2406 Kivett Dr., gave its name to the street.
In a June 22, 1992, letter to the city, Marvin Kivett Jr., the grandson of William Larkin Kivett, said his grandfather was one of the largest and most progressive farmers in the area, and listed the extensive High Point
community involvement of other members of his family.
Marvin Kivett Jr. wrote, "Kivett Drive has been in existence for nearly 90 years, so if the Planning and Development Commission feels that a Martin Luther King Boulevard is necessary, then certainly it can find a street to rename that will not destroy a part of the city's history."
The letter was also signed by other prominent High Point
citizens, including longtime City Councilmember and now Guilford County Commissioner Bill Bencini Jr.
3) In April 1994, the Planning and Zoning Commission passed a resolution recommending to the City Council that the US 311 bypass be given an honorary designation in memory of King. In May 1994, the City Council proposed separating the bypass into three sections that would be given honorary names for King, jazz musician John Coltrane and prominent High Point
furniture store owner Sanders Dallas. The state Board of Transportation rejected the proposal because it did not meet the state criteria for honorary street names.
4) In 2000, Wilkins proposed renaming all of North and South Centennial Street for King, a proposal Wilkins changed to North and South College Drive in 2001. This is the proposal most people in High Point
remember. As Robbins put it mildly, "The proposal generated much community debate." High Point
University and Christ United Methodist Church, which is at 1300 N. College Dr., opposed the proposal....continued on page 2