Archive for the ‘Zoning and planning’ Category

It’s the equation those puzzling over a controversial rezoning request have to sort through as they decide whether Mount Airy’s vision plan is out-of-date and thus not appropriate for use in evaluating whether 401 S. Renfro St. be approved for business use.

The vision plan, a guiding document that comprehensively gathers data on the city, says that corridor is fine for mixed use. Those opposed to the rezoning, however, point out that most of its information dates back to the late 1990s. Does that make it irrelavent? Has there been significant changes in the city in the past decade that change the scope of Mount Airy’s outlook on planning and growth?

I was still a high schooler in Asheville in the late 1990s, but can recognize there’s been numerous changes to the city itself. Not sure if they’re to the extent that planning and policy decisions should be guided by a different sort of principles. But that’s why the vision plan is due for an update. What comes out of the updating process (which will take place even if the rezoning request is settled Thursday) does impact everyone who lives in the area, whether or not you have a stake in the current controversy.

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We’ve reported both on the unveiling of plans to renovate the Spencer’s Mill complex (outlined on the arial photograph above) and on some of the steps needed before this project becomes more than just ideas on paper.

No one’s setting dates for construction to start anytime soon, but there are fairly detailed conceptual plans to peruse regarding developer The Landmark Group’s assessment of each of the 22 buildings. I’ve scanned a few for those curious. Check this link for an overview of where the 22 buildings are located, this link for more detail on the convention center part, or this link for a breakdown of square footage.

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The planning department map on the right frames in red the center of what has become an emotional rezoning dispute, as evidenced by the public hearing last Thursday. Owners of that parcel want to build a dry cleaners on the site, but first that requires turning the yellow of a residential district to the blue of a business one. Space limitations prevented us from printing all the points made by the 14 speakers in the story that ran Friday. So here’s a few more for both sides, told in the words of the speakers.

Arguments for:

-“Anytime we have a new business, we need to embrace them. We may not like it here, but it’s a necessary evil.”

-“The property sits here undeveloped and it looks bad in the city limits. I’d like to see the city grow anyway it can because I’ve seen us lose so many jobs.”

-“The lifeline of a business community is the small business owner. When a local person wants to reinvest in this community, that is the greatest compliment we can achieve.”

-“If we’re going to have a planning board, we should probably listen to them. The planning board has now approved of this twice.”

-“The traffic on this road is a main artery anyway.”

Arguments against:

-“This will make for more congestion. It will make it harder to pull out of the driveway.”

-“If we want to make this town more like Mayberry, we need to remember that Mayberry didn’t have a business on every corner.”

-“The city of Mount Airy’s vision plan has not been updated, edited or amended in the last 10 years. So to cite such a plan now is extremely conspicuous.”

-“On page 96 of the vision plan it states … ‘conservation and preservation of older neighborhoods is most important.'”

-“It’s just a good residential place that we worked for and want to keep. We have so many empty buildings that could be used.”

-“We’re not trying to keep anybody from making money or growing their business .. but please consider our neighborhood and people who have lived there a long time and their home values. I worry about this starting a progression of more businesses there.”

-“Each and every day, at least 108 times a car is going to stop in the middle of Renfro Street and many will make a left turn.”

-“Look at building apartments, condos or other things. You’ve been entrusted by the voters of Mount Airy to maintain the quality of life here, and I hope you do that.”

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One month. Three passionate zoning battles.

We started June analyzing a dispute over a racetrack in Patrick County and a fight over a scrap metal operation in northern Surry County. Now we’re ending the month with another business vs. the neighbors dispute, this one in Mount Airy.

In the pre-zoning era, you likely wouldn’t have three such disputes all at once. But now Surry County and Mount Airy have land use plans (you can see the county’s here, while the city’s isn’t up online) with zoning ordinances to carry them out, and Dobson is developing one. So there’s more restrictions on landowners, and neighbors unhappy about an operation next door have more precedent to call for (or at times demand) such restrictions. Now that budget season is over, the next city council and county commissioner meetings will likely spend much if not most of the time on these cases. Expect lots of debate weighing the rights of a property owner versus the will of a neighborhood, with the benefit of the community falling somewhere along that spectrum.

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The magnitude of interest among the general public in the whole debate over the house on Cherry Street is hard to gauge. But there’s no denying that those who do care are as passionate about this issue of recreation vs preservation as anything the city has recently faced.

The 45-minute long, unofficial public forum before the city council’s vote Thursday had a number of great quotes I couldn’t use because of either space constraints or not being able to verify the names of each speaker before they left the meeting. Here are some of the best (and I’m leaving out the analogy comparing the vote to Judas’ betrayal in the Bible).


First off, those in favor of selling the house to restore the structure:


“It introduces that end of the street. And we all know what the destruction of a street can mean. Look at Franklin Street. It’s all parking.”


“(RCC’s plans) are pie in the sky beyond pluto”


“Can we assume we’re going to spend the $5 million to get through phase one and two (of RCC’s master plan)?”


“If 20 parking places will solve the problem at Reeves Community Center, then we don’t have a parking problem.”



Now those who want to keep the property for RCC’s expansion:


“A drug dealer wouldn’t want to use that house. I think it will take an angel to come in and bring it up so it’s an asset to the neighborhood.”


“If you sell this house, as commissioners you have lost control.”


“I’m a great believer in preserving historic structures, but you have to pick and choose your battles.”


“I can’t imagine us selling out the children. They have no place to go without Reeves.”



And in the ‘can’t we all just get along’ category:

“Try to make both sides happy. You won’t be able to do that, but the verbiage you use will help.”


Yet my favorite quote of the night is this self-evalution from Commissioner Todd Harris. 

“Commissioner Bagnal says he wants to try and please everyone. I guess I’m the yin to his yang.”

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So it looks like there will soon be serious consideration of proposals to revamp the rest area in downtown Mount Airy, with the goal of making it blend in better with the surrounding architecture. I always thought that gap in Main Street looked odd, but never gave it any serious thought. What would make the most sense for that property?
Keep in mind, the money that’s being earmarked for this project comes from an additional tax levied on downtown properties. It’s reserved for projects that will boost that business district. So doing nothing to the rest area won’t provide more money for public safety or other city departments.
But will fixing it up even improve downtown business?

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Some bloggers have requested that we post commissioner topics in the days before a meeting, with an update on how they voted afterwards. This Thursday at 7 p.m. the city board is deciding on bids to the old house on 305 Cherry Street. This was the property that was originally slated for RCC parking, but was declared surplus by a 4-1 vote last month. Three bids ranging from $30,000 to $33,650 have been submitted.It’s a somewhat interesting debate, pitting historic preservation versus parking and facilities needs. It also raises the question of just what should be considered “historic.” This house is old, yes, and like anything old has a history. But it looks like any other plain house on a neighborhood block. Is it worth saving in the name of preservation?

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