February 14, 2013
The Greater Kirkwood Neighborhood Conservation Overlay (NCO) District was shot down again. The Kirkwood NCO didn't get a single vote on the Greensboro
Zoning Commission. It was denied by an 8-to-0 vote at the Zoning Commission meeting on Monday, Feb. 11 in the council chambers at city hall.
The only reason it wasn't 9 to 0 is that one commissioner was absent. The Kirkwood NCO was also defeated 8 to 0 when it came before the Zoning Commission in February 2012. The discussion at the 2012 meeting was how to send a strong message to the City Council that the Kirkwood NCO was a very bad idea.
So the Kirkwood NCO has had two shots at the Zoning Commission and been unable to convince a single zoning commissioner that putting additional regulations on a large amount of property near traditional Kirkwood was a good idea.
After five years of working on the project, the Greensboro
Planning and Community Development staff, with all the resources of the City of Greensboro
at its disposal, was unable to win over one vote.
The Kirkwood NCO is all about jobs. This project was about preserving jobs for staff in the planning department who have had nothing to do since the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2008. It's the same reason the city has a new Land Development Ordinance (LDO) that rezoned every piece of property in the city. And the same reason the city staff developed and tried to push through a Downtown Design and Compatibility Manual. For the past five years developers have been eking out a living – building a few houses, doing some remodeling, finishing up projects that were halted midway through – but property is not being rezoned for development like it was.
The planning department has really been pushing the Kirkwood NCO. When in 2012 the proposal was defeated 8 to 0, the staff got right back to work on modifying the standards and district, holding more public hearings and more meetings with the neighborhood association. After another year of work the Zoning Commission rightly assessed the proposal as making no sense from any angle.
According to the figures that the city used, which are themselves highly suspect for a number of reasons, the petition to increase the zoning regulations with a NCO in the 186 acre area that they call "Greater Kirkwood" was signed by 53 percent of the property owners. This is the same petition that was used in 2012, but there have been huge changes made to the area and the zoning conditions have been revised.
The city decided that it was OK for the city to change the area and make major changes to the zoning conditions but use the petition from the old area, which was signed by people who were told that the old conditions would apply as well as the old boundaries. Even with all of that sleight of hand, that 53 percent stuck in the craw of the zoning commissioners.
As noted by Zoning Commissioner Rick Pinto, it is akin to your neighbor rezoning your property.
If everyone in the neighborhood except one or two people think it's a good idea then maybe it should be done, but if the neighborhood is evenly split, how can you say that the 53 percent gets to rezone the property of the 47 percent.
In the spirit of full disclosure, in 2012 our home on Princess Ann Street was in Greater Kirkwood. However, this year the powers who make these determinations decided that the first block north of Cornwallis of the following streets – Princess Ann Street, Lafayette Avenue, Kirkpatrick Place, Colonial Avenue and Medford Lane – were not in Greater Kirkwood anymore.
In 2012, Marc Isaacson, who is a real estate attorney and lives on Princess Ann Street, organized the opposition. The planning department didn't want to get horsewhipped by Isaacson again and cut out the blocks that were zoned R-3. But that makes the map even more ludicrous than it was when it stretched from Lawndale to Medford Lane. Now the neighborhood according to the planning department doesn't include the houses on Princess Ann or Lafayette, but does include the houses facing Cornwallis along those blocks. So you have according to the map, a neighborhood one lot wide along Cornwallis that skips a block and joins up with traditional Kirkwood.
Only a seasoned bureaucrat could come up with such a silly map. This is supposed to be about a neighborhood. According to the map the people who live on the north side of Cornwallis are not in the same neighborhood as the people who live adjacent to them on Princess Ann or Lafayette, but they are in the same neighborhood with people who live seven blocks away on Colonial.
So there are definite boundary problems.
The tree preservation part of the ordinance would likely have the opposite effect. The ordinance basically requires someone building a new home to preserve 60 percent of the trees in the front yard, but a homeowner can clear his own lot at any time as long as he is not building a new home.
What any sensible contractor would do would be to have the homeowner cut down the trees before he bought the lot or simply cut down as many trees as he wanted before getting a building permit. It would encourage contractors to cut down any tree that they thought might be in the way before getting started.
Many of those who spoke in favor of the NCO talked about preserving the trees on Lawndale Drive. If that is the purpose of the NCO then they should cut it down to a couple of acres instead of 186 acres and see if they could get that passed. But it doesn't appear the present ordinance would do much to preserve trees on Lawndale.
One of the aspects of this that makes it so insidious is that even if you accept the 53 percent petition signers as a good number, the neighborhood is pretty evenly divided on this issue. Yet the city spent hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars helping those in favor of the NCO. Never once did the city have a meeting for those opposed. Not once did the city send out a flyer giving reasons why the NCO was not a good idea.
This was really a city project that had neighbors battling against neighbors. Is that what our city government is supposed to do?
Zoning Commissioner Janet Mazzurco asked if the city staff had gone door to door in the neighborhood to try and drum up support.
Planning Department Zoning Administrator Mike Kirkman said that was not true. He said they didn't go door to door, but they did prepare the materials for those who did go door to door.
Pinto said, "My thoughts are a property owner should be given a fair amount of latitude on what they can do with their own property." He said in this case other property owners were forcing restrictions on some property owners who didn't want them.
Zoning Commissioner Russ Parmele said, "It seems to me to be very restrictive and very presumptive." He noted that this overlay could not be changed except by going back through this process and, for all intents and purposes, really was "forever," as one of the opponents had said. He said he just didn't see how this was going to make the community better, not necessarily today but in 10 years or 20 years....continued on page 2