If you have ever wondered why east Greensboro lags behind the rest of the city as far as development goes, despite the fact that the city puts millions of dollars into encouraging development, part of the answer was revealed at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16 in the Council Chambers.
One of the reasons east Greensboro lacks development is that the councilmembers who represent east Greensboro fight against development, as was the case Tuesday night when a request to annex, zone and develop land on Old McConnell Loop off McConnell Road was denied at the insistence of District 1 Councilmember Sharon Hightower, District 2 Councilmember Goldie Wells and At-large Councilmember Yvonne Johnson.
What the real reason was for opposing the proposal to build 35 to 40 single-family homes on a 17-acre tract may never be known because the councilmembers opposing it tried several different tacks.
The city staff recommended approval of the request and the Zoning Commission gave it a favorable recommendation. Since the land first had to be annexed, it had to be approved by the City Council.
The request was from EHL Development LLC represented by Dick Franks to annex 17 acres and zone it Conditional District Residential Single Family (CD-R-7). The condition was that the site be limited to 85 homes. R-7 allows seven homes per acre. Planning Manager Mike Kirkman said a rough estimate of how many homes could be built on the lot was 125.
Franks said the developer planned to build 35 homes in the $200,000 price range on the site. Because there was a portion of the North Carolina A&T State University farm between this property and the city limits, state regulations call for the A&T land to be annexed also.
Ray Trapp, representing A&T, said that A&T was neither in favor nor against the annexation and development but that the people buying homes should be notified that they would be living next to a working farm.
Hightower said, “I’m very concerned about this. I’m a person who wants housing, you know I do, but this is very concerning to me.”
She noted that the agenda said 85 homes and now she was being told 35 homes. She wanted to know about the floodplain, stormwater runoff and the topography.
She asked, “Why is there no traffic study?”
The reason there is no traffic study is that a single-family home development of 35 houses doesn’t even come close to the threshold requiring a traffic study, which is expensive and only required for major developments.
Hightower said she didn’t like the higher price point for the homes and the fact that EHL Development only had one meeting with the neighbors, which was only attended by one person.
Wells said, “We want housing but we want affordable housing. We don’t want houses all jammed together.” She said, “Just too many houses, too many people charge them a lot of money and it’s not fair.”
Franks amended the condition from a maximum of 85 houses to a maximum of 40. He said they planned on building 35 homes but might be able to figure out how to get a couple more on the property. He said a stream and the required stream buffer reduced the buildable area of the property. The amended condition passed 8-to-1 with Hightower voting against it.
The idea that 35 or 40 houses on a 17-acre lot is “jamming them together” doesn’t make sense.
Hightower asked Trapp if there might be gunshots on the A&T farm or other noises that would disturb people.
Trapp said, “I’m the most urban person I know.” He turned the podium over to Leon Moses, the A&T farm supervisor, who went into some detail about the hog operation on the farm and using the hog waste for fertilizer. He agreed that there might be gunshots at times.
He said they had hogs, sheep, goats and beef cattle and they used the manure to fertilize the fields. He said, “Nobody has to tell you that smells.”
Johnson, who participated by phone, said, “We want to have affordable housing. We want to have it in that area, but I’m thinking that the A&T farm is not the place for it.”
Of course this land isn’t on the A&T farm. Franks said it had been owned by the same family for 118 years. He disputed the characterization that it was surrounded by the A&T farm and pointed out several other farms the land bordered.
Hightower noted that she lived next to the A&T farm and knew all about the smells, but she was concerned about the runoff and retention ponds from this new development.
Franks said that he had moved next to a farm that had the manure pile against his back fence, but he liked living there. He said a lot of people like living in a rural area and this was surrounded by an agricultural area.
He said, “It’s good for Greensboro and good for the community. There is a need for this type of housing in the area and we are ready to do it.”
Hightower said, “I’m all for affordable housing but it should be respectful and responsible.”
Hightower then made a motion to deny the annexation and it passed on a 7-to-2 vote with Councilmembers Justin Outling and Nancy Hoffmann voting against the motion.
Hightower’s reasons for voting against it were no traffic study, floodplain issues, retention pond questions and the fact that it was next to the A&T farm, even though she chooses to live next to the A&T farm herself.
Wells didn’t like those 40 houses being crammed on to 17 acres and Johnson was also against it because of the A&T farm.
Much of the annexation of land around Greensboro is farmland or next to farmland, but that doesn’t stop the city from annexing and rezoning the land. If Greensboro is going to stop annexing land for development because it is next to farmland, Greensboro is going to grow even slower than it is now.
But if this land were adjacent to Districts 3, 4 or 5 it would have been annexed and rezoned without question.
East Greensboro is going to remain behind the rest of Greensboro in development and prosperity as long as the elected leaders from east Greensboro continue to block development.
The City Council also amended its housing inspection ordinance. The main change is that now the city can inspect all the dwelling units in a building if one unit is found to have an “unsafe” condition.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter and Outling all noted that this was in response to a tragedy that happened several months ago, referring to the tragic fire in May where five children died.
The City Council has certainly tried to do something about that fire. In its first action the city managed to have over 25 families who lived in that apartment complex evicted because their apartments were condemned by the city.
This ordinance, which Outling described as “commonsense,” will do nothing to prevent a fire like the one in May because that fire was not caused by any building code violations but by leaving food on the burner of a stove unattended. It was a fire with tragic consequences, but it was caused by an accident, not by faulty wiring as some people suggested before the official fire report was released.
This City Council, which prides itself on being inclusive, wasn’t even moderately inclusive on this one.
The Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition (TREBIC) was in favor of the amendment, but TREBIC had been invited to the table to discuss the proposed ordinance.
The Greensboro Landlords Association was not, and asked that the ordinance be continued so that they could at least study it and see if they were in favor or opposed.
A representative of the Greensboro Realtors Association likewise asked that any vote be delayed so some legal issues with the ordinance could be worked out and noted that they would have liked to have had some input before the ordinance came up for consideration.
Several speakers noted that they weren’t sure they had the latest version of the ordinance since it had been revised several times.
The worst parts of the proposed ordinance had been taken out. It no longer allows the city to designate an area as blighted and then inspect every building in that area, which several attorneys said would be illegal.
The ordinance does give more power to the city inspectors since it will be up to the inspectors to decide if a condition in one unit is “unsafe” and therefore allows the inspection of every unit in the building.
At the end of the meeting the City Council went into closed session and, when it returned at 10:40 p.m., voted unanimously to appoint Jim Hoffman interim city attorney effective Oct. 22.
Tom Carruthers resigned as city attorney on Oct. 2 effective immediately. On Oct. 2, the City Council appointed Human Resources Director Jamiah Waterman as acting city attorney. Waterman was an assistant city attorney before accepting the position in human resources.
Hoffmann is currently a partner in the law firm Hoffman Koenig and Hering. Prior to that he was with Womble Carlyle for two years and before that was the general counsel for Lincoln Financial for 10 years.
Hoffman first practiced law in the Northern Virginia/Washington, DC, area and is licensed in both jurisdictions. While in northern Virginia he served as the city attorney for Manassas Park, a town of about 15,000.
He is a graduate of West Point and served in the Army for five years before going to law school at William and Mary.
When asked about long term plans with the city, Hoffman said, “I’m happy to serve as the interim city attorney.”
He will be paid a salary of $15,000 a month.