September 06, 2012It would appear something needs to be done about building and zoning enforcement in Greensboro.
At the Tuesday, Sept. 4 Greensboro City Council meeting, Glenwood resident Ben Holder showed the council photos of two houses in Glenwood – one burned in January and the other in June and neither has been torn down or even boarded up. The house that burned in January hasn't been inspected since June. Since they are not boarded up Holder noted that vagrants could be living in there, or that children could go inside.
Since Holder used to board up houses and clean up lots for the city as a private contractor, he has a special interest in dilapidated housing even though he is no longer under contract with the city.
No explanation was given by the city as to why the inspections department has done nothing to enforce the city code requiring condemned houses to be boarded up.
Councilmember Nancy Vaughan asked for information on the houses. She also noted that she had asked for a call history of the Cascade Grandview apartments on West Market Street, which were condemned and evacuated when Duke Energy cut off the electricity in August because the owner had not paid the bill.
Cascade reportedly had building code violations as well as not having the proper zoning, but the city allowed it to continue to operate.
The use of the Cascade building had changed, and because of the change from a privavte dormitory to single-room occupancy, there were development standards the owner had to meet.
The city certainly knew from the numerous building inspection complaints that the building was no longer student housing, but as far as anyone knows at this point the city staff made no attempt to bring the building into zoning compliance. When the council is provided with the information that Vaughan asked about, some of the questions may be answered. It's a good bet it is bad news because the city is quick to release good news and very slow with bad news.
In contrast last week at the Greensboro Board of Adjustment meeting, Bojangles' had to appeal a notice of violation. The belief of the zoning administrator was that the Greensboro zoning administration, not the corporate headquarters of Bojangles', should decide what shade of orange the awnings on a new Bojangles' at 514 Hickory Ridge Dr. should be.
The good news for Bojangles' is that the Board of Adjustment decided overwhelmingly that Bojangles', not the zoning administrator, should decide the shade of orange for the awnings on a Bojangles' restaurant.
But why would the zoning enforcement staff allow people to live in squalor at Cascade Grandview when the owner was not in compliance with the city zoning ordinance, and instead decide try to strong arm Bojangles' into changing the color of their awnings? It looks like the city staff needs to get their priorities straight on zoning enforcement and building inspections.
A speaker from the floor brought up the fact that bloggers are questioning how much Ross Harris, who was Mayor Robbie Perkins campaign manager, is being paid to run the Greensboro Performing Arts Center (GPAC) Task Force. And it's not just bloggers. Greensboro city councilmembers are having similar discussions amongst themselves and have been told that despite the fact that the city has allocated over $250,000 to the GPAC task force, it is none of their business.
Councilmembers say off the record that they have been told that The Harris Partners, which is Harris' company, is receiving $7,000 or $7,500 a month for the GPAC Task Force work. That would be about $90,000 a year. But it is not the same as paying someone a salary of $90,000 a year because Harris is a contractor, so she is responsible for all of her own benefits. It is probably closer to paying Harris $60,000 a year.
What has people, including councilmembers, riled up is that this whole process was portrayed as being open and transparent, and, in the beginning, it wasn't going to cost the city a dime. The Community Foundation was going to foot the bill for the task force, or that is what councilmembers thought they had heard.
Earlier this year the Community Foundation came asking for $50,000 to pay an outside consultant other than Harris. Then at the Tuesday Aug. 21 City Council meeting the Community Foundation asked for $205,000 to continue the work. The Community Foundation supposedly is putting in about $200,000 in private funds, but since the Community Foundation is not opening its books, nobody really knows if it is putting in any money. You can't claim to be transparent, ask the city for $255,000 and then refuse to tell the City Council how all the money is going to be spent.
The contract for the director is something that the City Council would expect to be told about, and certainly would have been told about if they had asked for
that information before they agreed to sign over $205,000. And some councilmembers are not going to accept numbers written on the back of an envelope, which is basically what they have been given so far.
Councilmember Jim Kee said that some of his constituents were skeptical of the process particularly since they didn't know how the money was being spent. He said, "If they want to get citizens' buy in they have to be completely open and transparent."
There is some confusion about how much money the city has put into this project so far. It seems to be caused by the fact that the city has allocated $255,000 to the Community Foundation for the project but it also spent $50,000 through the Greensboro Coliseum for plans from a consultant.
This was going to be a completely open and transparent public process, and it was until people started asking questions. Not only do the City Council and the citizens deserve to know how the money is being spent, the members of the task force who have donated hours and hours of their time have a right to know.
A fascinating aside at the meeting that got some attention came when North Carolina A&T State University Assistant Vice Chancellor Andy Perkins talked about A&T's new master plan and mentioned that A&T would be incorporating World War Memorial Stadium into the campus and would work with the city to bring it back to its former glory.
Councilmember Yvonne Johnson said the council had been waiting to hear about A&T's plans.
A&T taking over World War Memorial Stadium would certainly be great for Greensboro because the city staff has been chomping at the bit to tear down as much of the stadium as possible. It makes sense for it to be a part of A&T, and it seems A&T has realized that and made the stadium part of its master plan. Now if the city can just resist the temptation to tear down the stadium a little longer, it may have a new owner who will actually maintain the memorial the way it deserves to be maintained.