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Jun 11, 2009

Comments

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Andrew

I think there's room for all interested parties to reach a consensus. My question is why Roy Carroll is only now voicing his concerns about the plans. Al Leonard, the vice president of his company The Carroll Companies, sat on the steering committee for the plans.

You would think that Mr. Carroll would've known long before now about plans that he might disagree with. Or perhaps he purposely waited until the last minute so he could put the kibash on the whole thing and just do away with the downtown manual all together.

David Wharton

As of this afternoon, Mr. Carroll has not agreed to sit down and discuss modifications, though he's repeatedly been asked to do that.

Andrew, you're right -- Mr. Leonard was closely involved throughout the drafting process, and as far as I know, he kept Mr. Carroll and other downtown property owners up to date on what was being proposed.

Tom Phillips

Are they going to be guidelines or strict rules? My experience has taught me that guidelines such as the Comp Plan are interpreted as strict rules unless the governing body rides herd on the "planners" I think one of the most important things we need downtown is bulldozers.

glenwoodobserver

I think the process here is what is important - when you look at the planning group, while the developers are adequately represented, they aren't overly so like the LDO rewrite process. It might just be that he is used to getting his way (see Wachovia tower). I can only hope no one bends to his threats to take his toys and leave. The site will get developed - if not by him, then someone else. He should get no special consideration in this process regardless of his financial leverage.

Andrew

I also think it's worth noting that with many downtown projects, taxpayer funds are used. Mr. Carroll received at least $2 million in city and county incentives to revamp the Wachovia project. Lindbrook Development got $100,000 worth of city property for its planned project on South Elm. And those are the only ones I can recall.

So for Mary Skenes, who's Mike Barber's campaign manager by the way, to insinuate that only those who are in the real estate industry or own property downtown should be developing the design manual is disingenuous. If taxpayers are going to incentivize downtown development, which I don't necessarily disagree with, regular citizens should have a say in what their downtown is to become.

Even if this gets approved by the zoning commission, Mr. Carroll will have another opportunity to torpedo the manual through the city council. His political action committee, North Carolinians for Leadership in Government, gave $1000 each to Council members Groat, Matheny, Perkins, Wade, Bellamy-Small, Wells, and Mayor Johnson in 2007

To say development interests rule this city is an understatement.

Andrew

Part of the problem is that a large percentage of existing downtown buildings are owned by a relatively small amount of owners, Milton Kern and the like.

Because they own so much of the available property, it allows them to charge what some would consider exhorbitantly priced rents. So instead of reducing prices, their storefronts remain empty, or worse, look junky.

A great example is the building beside the Southern railroad building on S. Elm. Amanda Lehmert form the N&R told me a while ago that the second floor had completely collapsed in the building. The building is in complete disrepair.

But the owner has not taken any action ti rehabilitate the building or demolish it. He's instead holding out and asking an overpriced amount for the building. So this building at a crucial crossroads between the new and old S. Elm will remain an eyesore and vacant.

This should serve as prime example of how downtown property owners don't necessarily have the greater community's interest at heart. It appears to be all about profits. What they don't seem to get is that empty or ugly storefronts and dilapidated buildings only hinder downtown's further progress, and in turn, their bottom line.

Andrew

If there is to be any headway made in the next week and a half on the design manual on Carroll's part, it won't involve his attorney, Henry Isaacson.

He's out of the country until "week after next," according to the email he just sent me.

Mike K.

The Downtown Design and Compatiblity Manual is structured with Goals, Guidelines and Standards.

Goals lay out the purpose and what is trying to be achieved related to parking, landscaping, building facades, signage, etc.

Guidelines are considered best practices and what the community (if adopted it's ultimately done so by persons representing the entire Greensboro community) would like to see.

Standards are considered things that must be done (the minimum requirements if you will)

This Manual and Overlay will be administered within the established Technical Review Committee process so any standard is subject to a modification request where someone can propose a different way of achieving the goal if they can demonstrate "equal or better performance". That's the same process for other adopted overlay districts such as the Spring Garden Street Pedestrian Scale Overlay.

Zoning Commission will only make a recommendation on the boundaries of the overlay and the specific "character areas" where different standards may apply. The Manual itself was reviewed and recommended by the Planning Board previously with some suggested amendments from City staff including adding a citizen design professional to the Design Review Team (subset of the Technical Review Committee) that will review downtown plans. Everything ends up at City Council for a final public hearing and a vote.

glenwoodobserver

A great example is the building beside the Southern railroad building on S. Elm.

Andrew, this building, you mention, I believe is scheduled to be torn down by the City. I'm not sure of the timeframe...but this is what I remember reading sometime in the last few months.

glenwoodobserver

The fact that the hearing got delayed until July 13 still speaks volumes about the power of individual property owners and developers like Carroll. I'm not so sure Joe Fisher Park or Joe Ol Asheboro would have been able to go up there and politely request an extension for further review. The documents were made available for everyone to review for 30 days prior to the first public forum on the guidelines (back at the end of April I believe at the Depot). Granted, it's a thick document and I have as yet to make my way through it...why Mr. Caroll needs more time is beyond me. My understanding is that there is an emerging group of merchants organizing in downtown to be a forum for business owners (as opposed to property owners.) It would also be good to see an organized downtown residents association as well.

Andrew

@ glenwoodobserver: I think you're right. What I was told by the reporter from the N&R was that the city received a judgment to tear down the building. Problem is that it would cost the city upwards of $600,000. And even if it weren't a tight budget year, it's hard to justify spending that much taxpayer money. I think the city could seek a judgment from the property owner for reimbursement. But I was told he recently transferred title of it to his son, who may or may not own anything else of value on which to attach a lien.

I wonder if it would be possible for the city to seize the property under nuisance or condemnation laws. It's quite unfortunate. The building is very historic. If it's still salvageable, I'm sure it could probably qualify for federal historic tax credits, thereby lessening the cost of rehab.


glenwoodobserver

For anyone interestested in historic tax credits (I am), there is a class being taught at Edgecombe Community College in Tarboro on June 20th from 8am - 5pm for $50. I'm thinking of going...anyone else want to go, email me offlist.

eyeinthesky

I would like to clarify certain misconceptions regarding the Manual. Keep in mind, the Manual's asserted goal is to encourage development, not deter it. First, the Citizen Steering Committee is comprised of members who must vote to recommend a development plan. Mr. Leonard along with several others completely disagreed with the majority of the standards and the Manual as a whole. However, they were the minority. The driving force behind this Manual was Dick Hail, former Urban Designer in Durham and our City Planner. I urge you to take a look at Durham's design manual, which contains both guidelines and standards. As a matter of fact, it is so similar I bet you could make an easy case for plagiarism. Well, what is the status of Durham's downtown economic investment since their Manual's adoption, you ask? Take a look at Durham's website and you will find a stark decline in private and public downtown investment. Then, surf over to Charlotte, Winston, Greenville, SC, Houston, TX, Dallas, TX and you'll discover that these cities mandate very few if any, binding architectural and/or design standards. When it comes down to it, I'm taking my money to another nearby city that dominates GSO/Durham on every statistic and will let me decide what type of environment my consumers demand and is profitable to my unique business rather than some bureaucrats (one such person who will determine if my buildings are aesthetically pleasing is a Water Resources representative among six others who aren't architects or qualified...). GSO needs a plan, not this stringent, however. I would even support binding standards in the historic core. Yet, outside the historic core, the Manual should not dictate how tall my building can be or what it must look like down to every architectural detail. Under the Manual, no significant building that is currently downtown fulfills its requirements. Actually, I challenge anyone out there to find just one tall building in GSO that satisfies the Manual's demanding standards. Check Charlotte out too. You will find an empty skyline after subjecting its buildings to GSO's Manual. Read further into these cities' design guides and you will find that they were developed through an open public forum (and even constituent petitions requiring 51% of the property stakeholders to sign)as opposed to a Committee supposedly comprised of "the people". The people were not involved in this process because if they really understood the Manual in the time the City tried to sneak it under our noses, it be in the shredder and transferred thereafter to the incinerator. So where does that leave us? Do we want to be Durham? You decide. I sure don't or else I'd be there now. Remember I asked you to keep in mind the Manual's purported goal of creating new development for downtown. Well, take this home with you; imposing more burden on development and developers is no way to stimulate economic activity nor gain any interest from the outside. If we cannot even get our local developers to invest in our city, what makes anyone think we can pull outsiders in? Finally, I would like to address the gentleman or lady's comment on tax incentives for those willing to take a huge risk on any building downtown, let alone one that sat vacant for 17 years. Tax incentives are are an excellent development incentive and should be encouraged. For, if the city did not grant the tax cut, the white elephant, now Center Pointe, would still be smack dab in the middle of our city. Kind of reminds me of Durham's vacant blight in the heart of their downtown. Again, take a look at other cities grants/tax incentives for developments and you'll find they are numerous and work quite well. -Thanks for hosting this forum

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