Jun 6, 2008

Carolina Peacemaker article "Community Group Wants Petition Power Restored

Benjamin Fair from the Carolina Peacemaker on June 6, 2008 writes a front page article on Protest Petitions for Greensboro North Carolina, click here

Enclosed is the whole article :

Community group wants petition powers restored
by Benjamin Fair
Carolina Peacemaker
posted 6/6/2008

Unable to arm themselves with the power of petition, a group of Greensboro residents have taken aim and are ready to shoot down what they feel are efforts by local developers to keep their voices from being heard in local zoning cases. In 1971, legislation was passed that exempted the City of Greensboro from a statute that originally gave citizens the right to submit a protest petition in zoning cases, an act many community members today feel was unconstitutional and, according to one group of Greensboro residents, just the beginning of what they feel is an effort by the Greensboro City Council to keep their voices silent on the issue.

“The silence from the Greensboro city council is deafening,” said Keith Brown, a member of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens in Greensboro.According to Brown, Greensboro is the only city in the state to have banned protest petitions. As he explained, residents who support lifting the ban simply want the city of Greensboro to follow the rest of the state in allowing protest petitions to be presented. “Developers are getting away with carte blanche in this county,” he said.

By lifting the ban, disputed zoning cases could only be passed if they receive a 7-2 majority vote by members of the council. Currently, a vote is passed by a simple majority.

As Brown explained, lifting the ban on protest petitions would give residents of the community greater power in standing up to corporate developers. “This should never have been taken away,” he said. “This needs to be changed.”

Ronald Wilson, President of Starmount Residential, Inc. and Sr. Vice President for Starmount Company in Greensboro explained to the Peacemaker that the issue presents both advantages and disadvantages for both sides. According to Wilson, the issue is a complicated balancing act between the developer and the self interest of the community. “From a developers standpoint, it puts a burden on the developer to come up with some kind of agreement to make a project go forward,” he said.

On the other hand, he also explained how lifting the ban could strengthen the relationship between local developers and the community. “It would require the developer the get involved with the surrounding community and get involved with their concerns,” he said.

Wilson explained that in his opinion, the best time to lift the exemption would be in cases where the city is being presented with more opportunity for in-fill development. “I think it is very problematic that we don’t have the right to the protest petition on in-fill cases,” he said. In-fill development is defined as building on an empty lot within the city limits.

Marlene Sanford, president of the Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, recently told the Peacemaker why she is against the idea of a citizens protest petition. As she explained, protest petitions are a bad idea because they infringe on the private property rights of developers and because they are outdated. “From our perspective, it’s really antiquated and should be repealed statewide,” she said. Greensboro City Council member Robbie Perkins, who is also a real estate developer, shared his opinion on the issue with the Peacemaker. “It’s not really the city’s issue, it’s a state issue,” he said. “I don’t see it as a silver bullet for neighborhood residents to stop contentious zoning cases.”

As the issue continues to draw support and criticism from both sides, Keith Brown has vowed to continue fighting to make his voice heard. “We’re trying to make something that is wrong a right,” he said.

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