The good news is that the Greensboro City Council had four rezoning requests to consider at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15.
Four rezoning requests means development is finally starting to get moving again in Greensboro.
Two of the rezoning requests had no opposition, and two did.
For one opposed rezoning, the controversy was caused by the recommendation made by the Planning Department. The annexation and zoning request was for a lot on Guilford College Road at Amerberwood Drive in District 5, and Councilmember Tony Wilkins, who represents that district, was not at all pleased when he discovered the controversy was caused by city staff.
Wilkins said, “I’m very upset with the way this has come to us. But maybe there is a simple answer why we, as a city, got in the way and caused a problem when the solution to the problem was clear.”
The problem was that the city staff had recommended the property owner, Dr. William Ameen, request that the property be rezoned residential single family R-5. Ameen was requesting annexation because his well had run dry and he wanted to connect to city water, which runs across the 4.5 acre tract. This caused the neighbors to protest because an R-5 zoning would allow him to build over 20 homes on the lot where there is now one home. Those opposed didn’t like the density, but the majority said they wouldn’t oppose an R-3 zoning.
Ameen said it didn’t matter to him because he had no current plans to develop the land. He just wanted water in the house he had recently inherited from his father.
Wilkins asked, “Why would we recommend R-5 and cause friction with the neighbors.” He said that everybody wanted the R-3 zoning except the city, “So the city caused the problem instead of causing the solution.”
Planning Director Sue Schwartz blamed the City Council for not updating the Comprehensive Plan. She said the recommendation was made because it fit with the Comprehensive Plan.
This is an entirely bogus argument because the City Council amends the Comprehensive Plan at the drop of a hat. In fact, the only people who question the frequent Comprehensive Plan amendments are opponents to rezoning requests who don’t understand how the process works. It has been years and years since a rezoning request was denied because it required a Comprehensive Plan amendment.
But a Comprehensive Plan amendment does require the Planning Department to do more paperwork. In fact, killing trees is about the only purpose the Comprehensive Plan has ever served. It requires more paperwork and an additional motion from the City Council, but it has become so routine that nobody even notices it anymore.
The city allowed Ameen to amend his zoning request from R-5 to R-3 and most of the opposition went away.
Some neighbors were still concerned that he would theoretically be able to build 13 homes on the site. And once again, the Planning Department could have stepped forward and said that with a stream across one corner and a considerable slope to the land that, although it would be legally possible to build 13 homes, it was practically impossible.
In fact, someone from the Planning Department could have gone out and looked at the land and come up with a rough idea of how many homes could actually be built, but that would have required some extra effort.
The economy in Greensboro is starting to move forward, and frequent rezoning requests are becoming more common. It is time for the city to do something about the planning staff, which often is more of a hindrance than a help.
The R-3 rezoning request passed 9 to 0.
The other rezoning that faced opposition was on Hilltop Road at Lakeshore Drive, from single family residential R-3 to conditional district-residential multifamily (CD-RM-12). Amer Baker, the property owner, agreed to conditions that would limit him to building one four-unit apartment building on the half acre lot. This rezoning is also in District 5 and was opposed by Wilkins and the neighborhood.
However, Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter, who usually votes against any rezoning that has neighborhood opposition, was adamantly in favor of this one.
There is an apartment complex across Lakeshore Drive from the site, but this block was all zoned single-family residential. Wilkins pointed out that if this small lot was zoned multifamily, the two larger lots on Hilltop in this block would also go multifamily. He said to the neighbors in opposition, if this lot is rezoned, “your neighborhood and your community as you know it is dismantled.”
Wilkins and the opposition didn’t convince many councilmembers of their concerns. The rezoning passed 7 to 2 with Wilkins and Councilmember Yvonne Johnson voting no.
One thing that was unusual is that Baker had no meetings with the neighbors.
Usually the city councilmembers ask developers, “How many meetings have you had with the neighbors?” “How did you contact them?” “How many did you talk to individually?” If the answer – as it was in this case – is no meetings, no contact other than at the Zoning Commission meeting and one at a gas station, and no effort to make contact, the council will reject the rezoning, or at least continue it to allow for more neighborhood input. But most rezoning requests do not have Abuzuaiter as an advocate.
The City Council unanimously approved a rezoning request from Dwight Stone for 200 West Cornwallis Dr. to allow the expansion of the townhome development Blakeney at Irving Park to this adjacent single-family lot. The one-acre lot lies between Blakeney and Chiswick Park, a townhome development to the west. Stone plans to build six homes on the lot.
The council also unanimously approved a number of annexations and zonings to allow the expansion of the shopping center at the corner of Hilltop Road and West Gate City Boulevard.
Barry Siegal and Willard Tucker requested that seven acres be zoned conditional district-commercial high (CD-C-H). As part of this zoning the city rezoned some of its right-of-way and some of a railroad right-of-way to be consistent with the rezoning request.
The meeting started with the usual parade of speakers complaining about the Police Department. But the council has started fighting back.
Both Abuzuaiter and Mayor Nancy Vaughan made strong statements in support of the Police Department. Vaughan noted that Chief Wayne Scott had introduced more training, done more community outreach and implemented community policing.
Much of the criticism of the council at this meeting was of their closed session on whether or not to review the internal reports of the investigation of former Police Officer Travis Cole and his arrest of Dejuan Yourse.
City Attorney Tom Carruthers also came under attack for saying that the City Council did not vote in closed session when the audio tape of the closed session, which was released to the public, proved the City Council voted not once but twice on the same issue.
Carruthers said that in his view the council was reaching consensus in closed session, and the way the council reached consensus was by voting. It’s a fine line that perhaps only an attorney could appreciate.
Carruthers also said that it was proper to hold the discussion of whether to look at the records in closed session. Which seems to defy logic, because after being voted down in closed session, the vote to look at the records was made in open session. Once again maybe an attorney could appreciate the legal points of his explanation.