One Step Forward, One Back For Knight
May 21, 2010
The most telling part of the Greensboro City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 18, came toward the end and elicited no discussion.
By a 6-to-3 vote, the council passed a motion made by Councilmember Danny Thompson to move speakers from the floor on non-agenda items from the beginning of the meeting to near the end after business items.
The motion was appropriate because on Feb. 16, Thompson made the motion to move speakers from the floor to the beginning of the meeting, which was a real slap in the face to Mayor Bill Knight, who had moved speakers to near the end.
The good news is that Thompson can admit that he made a mistake, and that would go for Councilmember Nancy Vaughan as well, who on Feb. 16 also voted to put speakers at the beginning of the meeting.
The only three votes against the move were cast by Councilmember Robbie Perkins and the Perkinettes – Councilmembers Dianne Bellamy-Small and Jim Kee.
After people were arrested for taking over the dais and refusing to leave the city hall at the May 4 City Council meeting, it became obvious to most that something needed to be done for the council to regain control of its own meetings. Even Perkins said he would consider moving speakers from the floor from the beginning of the meeting, but in the end he voted against the motion.
The other change the arrest brought about was that now before you enter the council chambers for a meeting you have to empty your pockets and are wanded. The city is reportedly looking into getting walk-through metal detectors, but for now everyone is wanded and bags have to be opened for the security guards to look into.
The good news is that there was no one arrested at the meeting, but there were still speakers from the Spirit of the Sit In Movement Initiative complaining mostly about the Police Department.
At the next City Council meeting that group may have something new to complain about. Much of the public comment this year has been about a statement that Knight made about the fact that race contributed to hiring Tim Bellamy, who is black, as police chief.
Being mayor is Knight's first elected position and evidently he does not realize how racial politics are in this city.
On Tuesday, Knight put together a tribute to veterans, including a Marine Corps color guard. He read the names and dates of service and the branch of the armed forces for about 15 veterans and had them stand and come forward to receive a resolution thanking them for their service to the country. It was a moving ceremony and it appeared particularly moving to the World War II veterans who were invited.
Unfortunately, Knight made what should have been a meaningful ceremony controversial by not having a one single black veteran in the group he recognized. Bellamy-Small pointed out the absence of blacks in those recognized after the ceremony and she was right. She waited until after the ceremony and made her comments very tactfully, but appeared angry and rightfully so.
Knight apologized, but that really isn't enough. He is the mayor of Greensboro. Recognizing a select group of veterans in order to honor all veterans living in Greensboro makes sense, but not if he is only going to recognize white veterans. There are thousands of black veterans living in Greensboro who sacrificed just as much and are just as proud of their service as anybody else. To not recognize them was wrong.
If Knight couldn't think of anybody else he could have gotten former assistant City Manager Ben Brown to be there. He retired from the army as a lieutenant colonel and is a Vietnam War veteran. Certainly the city is currently employing some black veterans who would have been honored to be there.
Knight is a novice and is making novice mistakes, but he has to realize he is not president of a country club but mayor of a diverse city and he needs to make every effort to recognize and celebrate that diversity.
Notice to property owners, if you have property you would like to get rezoned and believe that it will be difficult to get five votes on the City Council, now is the time to file that rezoning request. The city is open for business.
In May there will be no Zoning Commission meeting because there are no rezoning requests, a fact that Councilmember Zack Matheny noted on Tuesday night during a rezoning hearing.
Earlier in the evening, the City Council voted unanimously to rezone the property next door to the Sherwin-Williams chemical plant on Spring Garden Street for up to 234 apartments. So the council voted to put residential next to heavy industrial zoning, and not just heavy industrial but a chemical plant. The neighbors around the chemical plant who live further away than across a side street frequently complain about the odors from the plant. In the future there will be up to 1,000 more people to complain.
In the 1990s the City Council voted to build a subsidized single-family housing community across the street from heavy industrial zoning. The result was Nealtown Farms, and the end result was that the city closed the White Street Landfill, with an estimated value of over $1 billion, and started shipping Greensboro's garbage to the other side of Troy in Montgomery County at an added expense of somewhere between $4 million and $10 million a year, depending on who you believe.
The actual rezoning was requested by Kotis Properties and was from heavy industrial (HI) to conditional district-planned unit development-infill (CD-PDI). The property is the old Rolane Mill, which has been vacant for years.
The planning staff recommended in favor of the rezoning and the Zoning Commission approved the rezoning request on a 6-to-2 vote.
The big difference between the Zoning Commission hearing and the City Council meeting was that Sherwin-Williams opposed the rezoning at the Zoning Commission meeting and filed a protest petition that would require Kotis Properties to get at least seven votes on the City Council for the rezoning to be approved.
But at the City Council meeting, Henry Isaacson, representing Kotis Properties, added two conditions that were approved by the City Council. The conditions eliminated any access by the proposed mixed residential development to Howard Street, which runs between the old Rolane Mill property and Sherwin-Williams. It also adds a vegetative buffer along that street.
After the conditions were approved, Tom Terrell of Smith Moore Leatherwood, who was representing Sherwin-Williams, said that on behalf of Sherwin-Williams he was withdrawing the protest petition and that, with the changes, Sherwin-Williams supported the rezoning request.
The Lindley Park Neighborhood Association also supported the rezoning request, but it was made clear at the Zoning Commission meeting that Lindley Park supported the rezoning because it would give them more people to work on getting Sherwin-Williams to move.
The City Council was evidently so delighted that Sherwin-Williams was supporting the rezoning request that it didn't need to hear the presentation from the applicant. Nobody spoke against the rezoning and the City Council passed it unanimously.
Perkins noted that 158 people were employed at the plant and "every one of those jobs is important to the City of Greensboro."
Perkins, who is in the commercial real estate business, later said that he supported putting residential next to heavy industrial zoning because it was such an oddball situation and that nothing else would work on the Rolane site.
There is other college student housing in the area and it appears the industrial zoning will be squeezed out of another area of Greensboro. If heavy industrial and residential zoning are actually compatible next door to each other, there isn't much need for zoning.
If the roles had been reversed and Sherwin-Williams wanted to build a chemical plant next door to an apartment complex with nearly 1,000 residents, you can bet that rezoning would have been turned down as quick as this one was approved.
The council then spent at least an hour discussing, debating, pondering, amending, conditioning and whatever else you can do to a rezoning request for property at the corner of North Church Street and Denny Road. The property up for rezoning is the lot across Denny Road from What-a-Burger and the next two lots north on Church Street. There is a small frame boarded-up house on each of the lots.
The rezoning request was from residential single family (RS-9) to conditional district-limited business (CD-LB) and was made by the property owner, Alejandro Rocha Perez, who was represented at the meeting by Emily Arzate, who is a real estate agent.
Arzate noted that they had made some mistakes because it was their first attempt at rezoning. And after going round and round with the City Council she finally requested a continuance to the July 18 City Council meeting where the public hearing will be continued. Both those in favor and those opposed should be given an opportunity to speak at that meeting.
Matheny made the point again and again that the property owner should have gotten some guidance from the Planning Department. At one point Matheny said, "I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated for the applicant. I'm frustrated for the neighbors and I'm frustrated as a city councilmember."
The Planning Department did not give the property owner the assistance necessary to present a request with a reasonable chance of passing.
The question someone at city hall should be asking is, what are all the employees over at the Planning Department doing? There were no rezoning requests to put on the May agenda. The Planning Department used to handle 10 rezoning requests a month. Now the same number of people are handling none, and not doing a very good job with the ones that do land on their doorstep.
The neighbors opposed the rezoning because they didn't know what was actually going to go there, with all the possibilities in the limited business zoning district. Also that side of Church Street north of Denny Road is single-family residential and they didn't want commercial encroachment.
Perkins seemed to agree, and said that the city was going to spend millions of dollars widening Church Street and it should be rezoned with some kind of a plan, not piecemeal.
On July 18 the council will take another shot at it.