Mar 6, 2008

the right to protest editorial in News and Record

The lead editorial in the Greensboro News and Record on Sunday March 2, 2008 had to do with the rights of Greensboro citizens to use the Protest Petition that was taken away from them some 37 years ago. Please read this editorial from the Greensboro News and Record. It is very clear to the Editorial Board that the rights of Greensboro citizens were taken away and now need to be restored, enclosed is a link to the article

The right to protest
Sunday, Mar. 2, 2008 3:00 am
When Keith Brown's High Point neighborhood was threatened with an unwanted development next door, he turned to a state law for help."It's a great law," Brown said last week. "It's there to protect the people who own adjoining property."The law allows neighbors to file protest petitions against proposed rezonings. A successful petition requires a three-fourths vote by the City Council, rather than a simple majority, to approve the change. But it doesn't apply in Greensboro, denying residents a tool they ought to have to make sure land-use decisions are fair for everyone.The protest provision goes back to 1923 in North Carolina, when municipal zoning statutes were first enacted, David W. Owens, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Institute of Government, said last week. Zoning was meant to establish a sense of certainty in land-use policy. Legislators also recognized that nearby property owners had a stake and gave them the opportunity to influence decisions in a powerful way.Then, in 1971, following a contentious rezoning case, Greensboro won a legislative exemption from the protest petition law. For decades, little attention was paid to the issue. Until now.Brown, a Greensboro native, has been pushing for reinstatement of the protest petition option for his hometown. He's winning supporters."I feel strongly that we need to restore that power to the citizens of Greensboro," state Rep. Pricey Harrison said last week. She'll try to get that done during the short legislative term that begins in May, although for procedural reasons action might have to wait until the next long session in 2009.But a Greensboro attorney who handles land-use cases throughout much of the state, Thomas E. Terrell Jr., warned that the law allows too much power, sometimes to a single individual who owns enough adjoining property to invoke a petition by himself."One person has the power to deny an elected body the right to decide an issue by majority vote," Terrell said. It's the "biggest stick any citizen can ever have" to control how another person uses his own land.Protest petitions don't always settle conflicts with a big stick, Owens at the Institute of Government said."They have the effect of encouraging the landowners and neighbors getting together and reconciling their competing interests prior to the issue getting to a vote of the City Council," he said.That was the case when people in Brown's neighborhood filed a protest petition: The developer eventually offered acceptable accommodations."I think it's going to make developers sit at the table," he said.Greensboro City Councilman Zack Matheny, however, worries about discouraging new developments. Although protest petitions haven't impeded growth in Charlotte or Raleigh, where they're used commonly, "Greensboro is not Charlotte and Raleigh. Greensboro is a different town," Matheny said.Yet, if developers make a compelling case, they still can win City Council approval with a three-fourths vote. And the council should give more weight to the objections of many residents than to one or only a few.Greensboro property owners are due the same right to petition state law allows residents of other cities

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