January 31, 2013
Tuesday, Feb. 5 the Greensboro
City Council is scheduled to vote on a proposed ordinance that will affect all of the property in the Central Business District. But on Tuesday, Jan. 29, if downtown property owners wanted to take a look at the ordinance to see how it would affect their property, it was not available on the city website. In two calls to the Department of Housing and Community Development, no one available in that department could find a copy. I was told that I had to wait for Zoning Administrator Mike Kirkman to get back because he knew where the ordinance was.
The city manager's office kindly directed me to the city clerk's office where I was told the city was depending on Downtown Greensboro
Inc. (DGI) to publicize the proposed ordinance. It may be on the DGI website somewhere, but I couldn't find it and neither could City Councilmember Nancy Vaughan.
Thanks to Vaughan it is now available on the city website.
Downtown property owners I have talked to have not been informed of this ordinance. If they had, it seems councilmembers would be hearing from them. It's all about aesthetics, and it is the aesthetics of Mayor Robbie Perkins and the city Planning and Community Development Department that count. The proposed ordinance states repeatedly that the planning and community development director makes the determination on whether a building is in compliance with the ordinance or not.
Some people like quirky old buildings that are not perfect. Perkins – who recently moved his own company out of the downtown because of the expense and inconvenience mainly caused by difficulties parking – doesn't appear to have much use for old buildings. What Perkins promotes are new buildings and strip shopping centers. It is his often-stated goal to have the downtown run like a shopping center. The planning department has in the past tried to do the same thing.
As always with ordinances, the devil is in the details, and this one has a whole bunch of details. Peeling paint, cracked windows and loose bricks not repaired by the property owner can be fixed by the city and the bill sent to the property owner.
Vaughan questioned whether the city would repair buildings up to historic standards. She noted that if an original window is removed and replaced it can destroy the historic significance of a structure and make the building ineligible for historic tax credits.
Another note, the city charges homeowners $500 and more to cut their yards if the grass is overgrown. How much would the city charge property owners to fix a cracked window or to repaint a building?
A great number of buildings in the downtown are out of compliance because this ordinance makes having boarded up or barred windows illegal. One building the city might want to take a look at is the new police headquarters. It appears to be out of compliance with this ordinance because of the bars on the basement windows. However, Assistant City Attorney Tom Carruthers, who wrote the ordinance, said that in his opinion the new police headquarters would not be out of compliance because the barred windows face the police parking lot. But he agreed that the city attorney's office is not going out in the field to make the determination of whether buildings are in compliance or not. You can bet that whoever makes that decision for the city will find that the new police headquarters are in compliance. Some of the more notable buildings downtown are clearly out of compliance, but it doesn't matter because the law
doesn't apply to them. They include the L. Richardson Preyer Federal Courthouse, the Old Guilford County Court House, and the new Guilford County jail. The AT&T building on Eugene Street appears to be out of compliance and the ordinance could be interpreted so that even West Market Street United Methodist Church, which has bars across its entrance, is out of compliance. But, of course, the city is not going to find West Market Street United Methodist Church out of compliance. However, walking around the downtown there are countless small businesses and office buildings that are out of compliance.
On Commerce Street between West Market Street and West Friendly Avenue there are two office buildings – one with boarded up windows and one with barred windows – that are out of compliance, and that is one small block. Until I walked around looking for them I had no idea how many boarded up and barred windows there were in the downtown. It is so common to with basement windows have some kind of covering or bars that I hadn't noticed. The Greensboro
Police Department, as well as dealing with their own building, might want to weigh in on taking all the bars off windows in the downtown.
DGI is supporting this ordinance because DGI's vision of the downtown appears to fall right in line with Perkins' vision of a strip shopping center. Will DGI start reimbursing downtown property owners when the bars and boards are removed and their buildings are repeatedly broken into?
It might shock the Planning and Community Development Department and DGI to learn that the bars are there for a reason. A bunch of downtown property owners didn't wake up one morning and say, "Wow, wouldn't bars look great on basement windows?" Bars to keep people from breaking in are not only common in downtown Greensboro
, but are common throughout the world. In Norway and Sweden, where basement windows are covered up with snow nine months out of the year, bars might not be so common. But in some countries they can be found on virtually every window.
Many windows are boarded up for the same reason. It makes it more difficult to break into the building. The regulation – which is totally about how things look not about functionality – is based on the opinion that bricked up windows are beautiful and boarded up windows are ugly. There are actually some attractive boarded up windows in the downtown and some ugly bricked up windows, but bricks are good and boards are bad according to this proposed ordinance. If a property owner decided to fill the window space in a brick building with a solid slab of marble, or lapis lazuli, or with hand painted ceramic tile – despite the fact that some people consider these materials to be beautiful – it would be illegal in downtown Greensboro
if the proposed ordinance passes. Diamond-studded gold and silver bars on a basement window would also be illegal, regardless of the cost.
What everybody knows but is not saying publicly is this is all got started because of two buildings that drive Perkins and his buddies crazy. One is the building that houses Glitters at the corner of West Washington and South Elm streets that has boarded up windows on the second floor. The building is owned by Sidney Gray, and he has been a thorn in the side of people who seem to think it is their place in life to tell downtown property owners what to do with their property. Gray doesn't like being told what to do and is one of the many downtown property owners trying to figure out how to get out of DGI, or at least how to quite paying for it....continued on page 2