The City Council work session on Tuesday, March 5 in the Plaza Level Conference Room at city hall was not at all what was on the agenda, but nobody on the City Council complained.
The agenda states “Greensboro Chamber of Commerce Legislative Agenda Update.” This is fairly normal. The North Carolina legislature is in session. The Greensboro City Council approved its own legislative agenda, items it would like the state legislature to pass, at the last City Council meeting and it appeared the Chamber of Commerce was going to present its own legislative agenda.
But the actual presentation was titled “2019 Priorities For Greensboro City Council.” So the presentation was not about what the Chamber wanted the folks in Raleigh to do, but what the Chamber wanted the City Council to do.
The City of Greensboro funds the Chamber every year with a couple of hundred thousand dollars, most directly to Chamber programs the city chooses to support but also $130,000 to the Chamber itself.
So you have a body funded by the City Council coming back and telling the City Council what it should do.
It was odd and even odder, not a single member of the City Council questioned being told what to do by an organization it funds. The city funds a multitude of organizations, perhaps they are all going to show up at City Council work sessions and tell the City Council what they think the City Council should do. It would make for some interesting work sessions and might inspire the City Council.
What was also odd about the work session is that President of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce Brent Christiansen was in the room for most of the presentation, but he didn’t say much. Instead Marlene Sanford the president of Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition (TREBIC) did the entire presentation and answered most of the questions that were asked.
To no one’s surprise one of the primary recommendations of the Chamber to the City Council is that the City Council continue to fund the Chamber and its various initiatives and provide a little more money.
The Chamber also asked for more money for economic development asking that the City Council begin offering tax incentives to shovel ready sites and spec buildings (buildings with no tenants). Economic incentives are currently offered based on capital investment and jobs, but clearing a site does not produce jobs, nor does constructing a spec building. It would be quite a departure from the current method of offering economic incentives and greatly expand those who are eligible.
The Chamber would also like to see the city finish the Downtown Greenway by 2020. This seems reasonable for a four mile long sidewalk around downtown Greensboro which was first planned in 2001, but the city is going to have to pick up the pace considerably, to make that deadline.
Along those same lines the Chamber recommended that the City start spending some of the bond money that the voters passed in 2016, including the $25 million for downtown revitalization.
The Chamber wants the City Council to concentrate on infill development. Everybody seems to agree that Greensboro needs more density and everybody also seems to agree that it should go in somebody else’s neighborhood. Infill development projects tend to fill the Council Chambers with angry neighbors.
Councilmember Yvonne Johnson asked that an educational piece on infill development be produced, with before and after photos.
The recommendation that got a rise out of Mayor Nancy Vaughan was when Sanford said that the Chamber wanted the water and sewer service areas to be expanded.
Vaughan said, “We do have a limited amount of sewer capacity at this point.” Vaughan said that much of that capacity was being reserved for the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite.
She added, “Running it out to residential developments is not necessarily the best use for our sewer capacity.”
Sanford said that office and industrial development was also planned.
Vaughan said, “We just made certain commitments to our partners on the megasite and that is what we have to do.”
The Chamber also wants the City Council to do some strategic visioning and planning in a structured manner and have it professionally facilitated. Evidently the Chamber was not impressed with the City Council retreat which is supposed to be its strategic planning session.
Does the individual taxpayer have any say in how their tax dollars will be spent? Millions for something called “infill development.” Millions more for incentives to “shovel ready projects” [any specifics?] and “spec buildings” [empty shells with no tenants]. More millions for downtown redevelopment with no clear idea of what that redevelopment should look like but plenty of real estate and building industry [read Chamber of Commerce] hands and pockets ready to be filled.
And then there is the Chamber’s request that water and sewer service areas be expanded. More capacity — more millions. And those millions aren’t going to be directed to service the needs of existing communities. As Mayor Vaughn has pointed out, “We have a limited amount of sewer capacity at this point. … Running it out to residential developments is not necessarily the best use of our sewer capacity.” Really? If not now, when? Voters might like to know.
One more point: The Mayor said, “We just made certain commitments to our partners on the megasite and that is what we have to do.” What about your commitments to the citizens of this community? What commitments — specifically. And how will we benefit? Despite your hundreds of millions in site development, spec buildings, and infrastructure upgrades, you need to expect that your Chamber of Commerce friends will walk away without giving it a second thought.