May 15, 2008

Guest Column on Protest Petitions for Greensboro

The Coalition of Concerned Citizens Member Keith Brown wrote a Guest Column to the Greensboro News And Record on Thursday May 15, 2008, click here to comment.

Greensboro residents want rights on zoning
By Keith Brown
Thursday, May. 15, 2008 3:00 am

The N.C. General Assembly can create new law and destroy old law. Cities such as Greensboro are subject to those laws, unless state legislators allow an exception.

In 1971, local elected officials supported a bill under a cloud of politics to exempt Greensboro from N.C. General Statutes 160a-385 and 386, which created what formally is called a "protest petition." This exemption never should have been made in the first place and is bad public policy.

Protest petitions are used if a certain percentage of property owners most affected by a zoning change object to the rezoning. These residents may petition for a super-majority vote of at least 7-2 to approve the rezoning.

Protest petitions level the playing field for residents, especially when pro-development members of the City Council are making rezoning decisions.

Professor David Owens of the UNC School of Government says, "The provision in North Carolina zoning law for a protest petition is mandatory for cities." His use of the word "mandatory" demonstrates that Greensboro is not following a law every other city must follow. As stated before, the General Assembly can destroy old law, and this exemption is definitely old law.

To hear Gary Rogers from the Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition (TREBIC) say that Greensboro, back in 1971, had the foresight to exempt itself from this statute is condescending to citizens here. No, Mr. Rogers, it was not foresight. It was an effort to take away a right of the citizens to use the power of petitions against unwanted development in established neighborhoods.

Those who oppose protest petitions in Greensboro say they would discourage in-fill development. They say the current exemption aids growth, and not having the exemption would hurt growth.
Yet Raleigh and Charlotte have protest petitions, and both have grown faster than Greensboro since the exemption has been in effect.

Because I live in High Point, my neighborhood had the right to use a protest petition against a major developer not once, but twice, in a highly contested rezoning case off N.C. 68. I'm certain Greensboro citizens also would like to have this powerful tool as their voice against encroaching development.

Why not let the Guilford County legislative delegation push a bill to make the city of Greensboro comply with this state law? This would give Greensboro residents the same right as other North Carolina residents who live in cities.

Thirty-seven years is long enough. Let your state legislators know you would like to have protest petitions back in Greensboro.

I will leave you with a quote from a Greensboro resident who said it well: "It's time that citizens had a way to stop the business-as-usual crowd from developing our quality of life out of existence."

Keith Brown lives in High Point and is a member of Coalition of Concerned Citizens.

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