March 07, 2013
So the Greater Kirkwood Community Neighborhood Conservation Overlay (NCO) district saga, which started in 2008, will have yet another chapter following the City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 5.
If the Greensboro
City Council were charged with ordering one pizza for dinner, the councilmembers would certainly go hungry because they would never be able to decide where to buy it or the toppings.
According to an unofficial vote count, the Greater Kirkwood NCO district would have failed by an either 5-to-4 or 6-to-3 vote. Mayor Robbie Perkins, and Councilmembers Zack Matheny, Nancy Vaughan, Tony Wilkins and Jim Kee all said they would have likely voted against it. Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter, Nancy Hoffmann and Yvonne Johnson all said they would vote for it, and Councilmember Dianne Bellamy-Small didn't say how she would vote.
Abuzuaiter and Hoffmann are in favor of any expansion of government they come across, so it is no surprise that they would support this overreaching, unnecessary overlay district. If it involves more government intervention into people's lives then Abuzuaiter and Hoffmann can hardly wait to vote for it.
Johnson may have thought the staff was being somewhat honest, which was not the case at all. Planning and Community Development Director Sue Schwartz gave the presentation and she was challenged by both Matheny and Perkins, who strongly disagreed with what were supposed to be statements of fact.
Zoning Administrator Mike Kirkman, who works for Schwartz, helped her misinform council.
In a case like this where a neighborhood is split, particularly if it is split 50/50 like this one, the staff should go out of its way not to take sides. Schwartz and Kirkman did the opposite – they lobbied so hard for the NCO that they were not entirely honest in their answers to the council, something that people aware of the situation knew, but not all councilmembers.
When Abuzuaiter asked about other overlays, Schwartz said Westridge Road, and the three historic districts. Kirkman added that there were scenic corridors, and that the council had passed a Downtown Design Overlay. All that is true but somewhat misleading, in particular because the downtown overlay is all suggestions. No property owner has to do anything in the overlay. It can be completely ignored. There is not one single regulation in it.
Matheny followed up and asked how many NCOs there were in Greensboro
. The answer to the question is one. There is one conservation overlay district in Greensboro
and it is on Westridge Road.
Matheny was trying to make the point that the Greater Kirkwood NCO is much larger and far more diverse than the city's only existing NCO on Westridge Road. So he asked Kirkman how big the Westridge Road NCO was. Kirkman said it had 276 lots. The Westridge Road NCO only includes houses on Westridge Road, and it actually has about 125 lots according to the map provided by the city. Kirkwood has somewhere around 550 lots at present, so unlike what Kirkman said the proposed Kirkwood NCO is not twice as big as the existing Westridge Road NCO, but more than four times as big.
Schwartz and Kirkman told another joint whopper when they said that under the proposed NCO Kirkwood Village – a cul-de-sac neighborhood off Independence Road built in the 1990s – could be built. What would have been closer to the truth is if they had said that some houses could have been built on that tract, but it wouldn't look anything like Kirkwood Village. There is simply no way with the restrictions in the NCO that anything remotely like Kirkwood Village could be built. Both Matheny and Perkins pointed that out, but Kirkman and Schwartz said that it could. Finally Kirkman admitted that it wouldn't look like it does today.
Matheny gave up arguing with Kirkman and Schwartz and pointed out the way Kirkwood Village violated the proposed NCO. He said, "The trees were clear cut and the garages are all at the front, and these houses are not 40 feet from the curb."
Schwartz said, "The development could have occurred."
Perkins backed Matheny up saying, "I would contend that would not be the case. There were big oak trees all over that site and there was no way you could build that."
The Zoning Commission voted down the proposed Kirkwood NCO by a 9-to-0 vote. It was the second time the Zoning Commission had unanimously voted down the proposed NCO. After it was voted down last year those in favor met with the city and cut a big section out of the proposed NCO and then brought it back with the same petition, which is just wrong.
The Planning Board, which passes everything unanimously, didn't pass the NCO and didn't have a recommendation because the vote was 3 to 3.
One thing that was shocking about the City Council meeting was how much better prepared the Zoning Commissioners were to discuss the Kirkwood NCO than the City Council. Both Matheny and Perkins have lived in Kirkwood and they both opposed the proposed NCO. Vaughan lives near Kirkwood and had heard from a lot of residents and she was adamantly opposed.
But Abuzuaiter and Hoffmann didn't seem to really understand the issues. Abuzuaiter said she was for it because the neighborhood was for it. Even a glance at the material in the agenda packet would have shown her that only half of the neighborhood was for it. And if she had talked to some other councilmembers she would have found that some who signed the petition want to unsign it. For half of a neighborhood to be able to rezone the other half's property without their permission is not going to create harmony in the neighborhood.
Schwartz misled the City Council about neighborhood support because she said the meetings were well attended since they had 40 or 45 people. Even if she is not counting city staff, who numbered five or six at some meetings, there are now 550 lots in the proposed NCO. If you figured around 900 residents, 40 or 50 is closer to 5 percent than 10 percent, and not all of those residents were in favor. At many meetings held since 2008 there were a number of people who came because they were opposed.
The usual pattern in neighborhood issues is that the district councilmember who represents that area is listened to by the rest of the council. They may not vote with the district councilmember, but they make some concession to that councilmember since they are expected to know more about their district.
Matheny, the next day, expressed frustration. He had made a suggestion that, instead of passing the controversial NCO, the city do a corridor study on Lawndale Drive, since development on Lawndale Drive seemed to be pushing the matter. But that didn't gain any traction.
The councilmembers who were opposed to the NCO are so opposed that when Johnson said she was voting for it, they decided to delay it because they weren't sure they had the votes to defeat it outright. Vaughan made the motion to continue the matter until the April 2 meeting, which first passed on a voice vote and then passed on a recorded vote 7 to 2 vote....continued on page 2