February 07, 2013
City Council put off voting on an ordinance that would require property owners in the Central Business District to take bars off of windows and doors, replace cracked windows and peelings paint or face fines of up to $500 a day.Greensboro
Mayor Robbie Perkins – who recently relocated his real estate office out of the downtown for cost-saving reasons and more convenient parking – has been a proponent of the ordinance, which was discussed at the Tuesday, Feb. 5 City Council meeting in the council chambers at city hall.
Assistant City Attorney Tom Carruthers said the "Good Repair Ordinance" would offer landlords "proper encouragement" to maintain the aesthetic appeal of their buildings by mandating that they fix or replace all boarded, broken or barred windows and deteriorated or damaged walls adjacent to public streets.
"We will be the first city to adopt this kind of an ordinance," Carruthers said when asked by Perkins.
Some city councilmembers expressed concern about the proposed legislation.
Councilmember Zack Matheny said that said he wasn't sure that the city planning department should be the judge of the aesthetic quality of things like paint jobs.
"Some people pay a lot of money for whitewash brick," Matheny said. "I get an old broken down window like the one you showed, that's easy, but when you branch out into stuff like this, it's going to get insanely difficult."
Councilmember Nancy Vaughan said, "I also have a problem going into that much detail."
Councilmember Tony Wilkins asked if bars used for security would have to be removed.
"If they are not moveable, yes," Carruthers replied. The ordinance does allow moveable coverings to be placed over windows after business hours.
Nick Piornack of Momentum Development Partners, a company that received a $200,000 loan and 1,400 square feet of right-of-way from the city last year for parking for a Mexican restaurant downtown, said that it was extremely difficult for his partners to sell downtown Greensboro
because of buildings in disrepair.
"I do believe we need to put some perfume on the pig, you might say," Piornack said. He said it wasn't necessary to repair the interior of the buildings, but that repairing the exteriors would be helpful.
Ed Wolverton, president of Downtown Greensboro
Inc. (DGI), also spoke in favor of the ordinance. He said that DGI had a facade grant program in place to help finance the repairs. He said the program provides 50 percent on a matching basis up to $5,000 to help finance exterior repairs.
Matheny questioned why more people weren't taking advantage of the facade grant program already. He said he would encourage upping the facade grant. "Unfortunately, some of the folks that have blighted buildings probably don't take advantage of the facade grant because they can't afford it." Matheny went on to say that if they couldn't afford the facade grant, they wouldn't be able to afford repairs either.
Dawn Chaney, a member of the DGI board of directors who owns rental properties downtown, said she supported the ordinance. "When I bring people to our city looking for properties to lease and they ask me about boarded up buildings, it bothers me immensely," she said.
Chaney, however, noted that she was fortunate to have all of her rental space occupied at this time.
Sidney Gray, owner of the Silver's building at the corner of West Washington and South Elm streets, and several other properties in downtown Greensboro
, spoke against the ordinance. He said that he was waiting for tenants for his properties before investing in repairs.
Gray also questioned why DGI was supporting this ordinance when they had not gone to their "forced membership" for their view on the situation. "Not once has DGI brought me a potential tenant," he said.
"We should ask among other things why businesses move their offices out of downtown, why other businesses choose not to locate downtown," Gray said.
Gray said that while the stated intent of the ordinance was to preserve the character of the city, the character of the city was first established by individual entrepreneurs, not city inspectors. "I am sure that these concerns about certain buildings can be rectified without an ordinance," he said.
When asked by Matheny if he had taken advantage of the facade grant, Gray said that he had been waiting to develop the whole building and didn't feel it was necessary to "waste taxpayer money un-boarding windows."
"Sometimes you might need to dress it up in order to attract a tenant to come there," Matheny said. Gray said that there was a possible tenant looking at one of his buildings already.
Billy Jones also spoke against the ordinance. He said a study by Action Greensboro
indicated that the downtown rental market could not support downtown building repairs.
Jones also said he was concerned that the ordinance was a "land grab" attempt that could lead to the city seizing properties and auctioning them off to the highest bidder. Carruthers said that the liens the city could impose under this ordinance would be inferior to any mortgages.
After the public hearing Councilmember Jim Kee said, "It looks like this item is going to require a lot of work," and suggested considering it further at a work session.
Matheny agreed, and said that he thought the ordinance as presented was a feel good solution. Matheny pointed out that there were other areas of the city that needed improvements too, including High Point Road.
Matheny suggested looking at incentives rather than regulations to encourage improvements. Councilmember Yvonne Johnson said the city may need to look at a combination of regulations and incentives.
Perkins said that the item could be discussed later but said, "we're gonna have to get tough on the folks that are making it look like the dickens." Calling out Gray he said, "you've got a couple ones that absolutely look like the dickens."
The council voted 8 to 0 to table the ordinance. Councilmember Dianne Bellamy-Small had been excused part way through the meeting due to illness.
Earlier in the meeting the council voted unanimously to give Procter & Gamble $961,000 if the company chooses to expand in Greensboro
The grant will be paid out over three years after Procter & Gamble has created 200 jobs and completed its capital investment of $100 million.
There were several speakers on the item who questioned why a multi-billion dollar company would need public money to expand in Greensboro
Jones presented figures on the company's finances, including a net profit of $9 billion. "How is it that a company that makes $9 billion in a single year feels the need to ask a city for money?" he asked.
Jones said that he had mixed feelings about the incentive grant, because the company would be bringing jobs and his employers had worked with Procter & Gamble in the past.
Shannon Leonard said he had been fighting to bring his property back down to market value after it was inflated by other properties in Guilford County; meanwhile a company as successful as Procter & Gamble was being offered public money....continued on page 2