If you wonder why Greensboro has the highest tax rate of any comparable city in the state, the answer could be found at the Greensboro City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
Two items on the short agenda go a long way to explaining the city’s sky high and about-to-go-higher tax rate. The Greensboro Children’s Museum, a fine upstanding organization, asked for $250,000 so that it could borrow less for a $3 million capital improvement project. The City Council said yes. Councilmember Tony Wilkins pointed out that if the City Council gave the Children’s Museum $250,000 essentially just because they asked for it, what would stop other organizations from doing the same.
Wilkins said that according to the agenda it was recommended that the City Council approve giving $250,000 to the museum. Wilkins asked who recommended it. City Manager Jim Westmoreland said that city staff recommended it.
But the request has all the earmarks of coming from City Council. In other words, some city councilmember who won’t admit it went to the Children’s Museum and suggested the museum request $250,000. City staff doesn’t do things like give away $250,000 without direction from the City Council.
The motion to hand over $250,000 because they asked for it passed on a 7-1 vote with Wilkins voting no. City Councilmember Jamal Fox was absent.
Wilkins did note that this $250,000 was in addition to the $100,000 that the Children’s Museum was granted in the current budget. So in the current fiscal year the Children’s Museum will receive $350,000 in funding from the city.
As Wilkins noted, if you want money, just head down to the City Council chambers and put in a request. The worst that can happen is that the council would say no, but it doesn’t happen very often.
The other item that explains the high tax rate was the acceptance of the Friendly Avenue Area Plan, which is a hindrance to economic development.
At one time Councilmember Mike Barber had the votes to put a stop to all the plans, studies and such done by the city, because they were a waste of money, but now they are back.
These plans are mostly worthless, although they can make good doorstops or paperweights, so it would be unfair to say that they are totally and completely worthless. But an argument can be made that they are detrimental because they give people a false sense of security about development in their neighborhood. And the city has a tendency, as it did in the Friendly Avenue plan, to slip in some unnecessary regulation.
Neighborhood residents attend City Council meetings to oppose rezonings and they say, “You can’t rezone this property to commercial because on the corridor study it shows this property as residential.”
The residents are usually stunned to find that the corridor study or area plan has no clout. The plans amount to no more than having members of the Planning Department shade areas different colors. It makes no difference what color they shade an area, property owners still have property rights and only the City Council, not the Planning Department, can rezone property in the city.
What all the plans ignore is that development is going to go where some developer is willing to spend the money to build it. The city can recommend that an area be an office park, but until somebody is willing to invest the money to build an office, it will never be an office park.
What makes the Friendly Avenue Area Plan stand out is that it is even more worthless than most because it covers the area from Elam Avenue to Holden Road. The study area goes as far north as Benjamin Parkway and as far south as Edgewater Drive. But when you look at the area studied, it contains Friendly Center, the Shops at Friendly, Wesley Long Hospital, Bicentennial Park, the Bog Garden and not much else. There are only 155 households with a population of 290 in the 397-acre study area.
Does anyone think that if Friendly Center decides that it wants to reroute traffic through the shopping center or change the zoning designation on some of its land that the City Council is going to say no?
It isn’t going to happen. Far too much revenue in the form of property taxes and sales taxes is generated at Friendly Center for the city to try and tell the owners how they should do business.
The city isn’t going to tell Cone Health, which owns Wesley Long Hospital, what to do either.
Then you have the parks. The interesting aspect of the parks is that the parks are not designated as parks on the comprehensive plan, an error the Friendly Avenue plan corrected.
If the city cannot even list its own property in the correct categories, how much use could the comprehensive plan be?
The Friendly Avenue Area Plan is too long, boring and repetitive to quote much of it here, but the first recommendation made in the plan is worth noting. It is, “Goal: Maintain a safe and efficient road network with safe access for pedestrians and cyclists while protecting adjacent neighborhoods from excess non-local through traffic.”
Can you imagine anyone being against that goal?
Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t get much more meaningful.
Councilmember Justin Outling objected to a part of the plan that does do something. It requires a property owner making a rezoning request to hold a public meeting before the process starts.
Outling said it was unfair to put a special burden on property owners applying to rezone land in the study area that doesn’t apply to the rest of the city. He said that developers meet with the neighborhood without being forced to by the city, and if they don’t the City Council rejects the rezoning request.
Outling said, “It is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.”
He also said that having the city require and facilitate the neighborhood meeting wasn’t a good use of city resources.
Outling didn’t get any support and his motion to approve the area plan except for that one requirement failed on 7-to-1 vote. The plan unamended then passed unanimously.
The majority of the City Council and the Planning Department want to make development more difficult in Greensboro. Adding a regulation here and a meeting there all adds up and eventually Greensboro, which is growing at half the rate of other major cities in North Carolina, will slow down growth even more.
In several places in this area plan, the Planning Department laments the fact that it cannot prevent property owners from making a rezoning request. Whatever happened to property rights?
In other business, Davis Montgomery from Duke Energy presented the city with a check for $450,000 for an electric bus charging station. Montgomery said that $500,000 in grant money was available statewide and Greensboro was receiving $450,000 of that because of the proactive nature of the Greensboro Department of Transportation.
Retired Greensboro Deputy Police Chief Brian Cheek spoke from the floor about the need to support the Police Department and the good work that Police Chief Wayne Scott has been doing for the past two years.
At the end of the meeting Councilmember Sharon Hightower voiced her own objections to a retired police officer speaking to the City Council about the Police Department. Hightower never complains when people come to City Council meetings to denigrate the Police Department, but she finds someone praising the Police Department “troubling.”