Back to the garden, redux

by Ogi Overman

Like Steve Martin in The Jerk, I think I’ve finally found ‘“my special purpose.’” Something has changed fundamentally in the last few years in the way I view the immediate world around me, in the things I hold dear and the things ready to be cast aside. It has nothing to do with 9/11, so I’m not going to quit my job and go live on a mountaintop and contemplate the ethereal oneness. Sure, I’ll continue to fight the unwinnable fight on the big-picture issues of world peace, social justice and the brotherhood of man, but I’m starting to realize that ‘“Think globally, act locally’” doesn’t get much done merely by being on a bumper sticker. At some point you’ve got to get in gear and actually do something. Even being a practitioner of advocacy journalism is not the same as getting in the trenches and doing the dirty work. So, brothers and sisters, I think it’s time to get my hands dirty.

I suppose it’s the things closest to us, the things that affect us in a personal way, that shape the causes we choose to take up as our own. Consequently, there are three issues dearest to my heart, all of which I have a personal stake in. Because my wife suffers from MS and is wheelchair bound, I am an advocate for the rights of the handicapped; because I have glimpsed the ravages of alcohol and drug abuse up close and personal, I am an advocate for prevention, treatment and recovery programs; and because my home and property are under siege from encroaching development, I realize that I am becoming an advocate for neighborhoods, homeowners and what is left of the tree canopy that shades Greensboro.

As my loyal army of devoted readers, AKA the Sizzling Seventeen, is aware, two of the last three offerings in this space have concerned the proposed zoning change on New Garden Road that will bring a Walgreen’s and a bank into a once serene inner neighborhood populated by single-family dwellings and Canada geese. The first skirmish was held Tuesday, April 10 at the Greensboro Zoning Commission, where (although as I write it is Friday, I have it on good authority) the good guys won. Yet, even though the staff recommended the request for the zoning change be denied, realty hunk Mark Isaacson will simply appeal the ruling to the City Council, where the major battle will be fought May 2. One of our neighbors has organized a petition drive, all our city councilmembers will be getting very polite phone calls in the coming weeks, and we intend to pack the chambers with vocal homeowners, but I took it upon myself to take it a step further. I have started a blog, on which I intend to post the petition and solicit signatures. The city attorney’s office assured me that electronic signatures are admissible (NC General Assembly statute 66-317), so I am asking anyone concerned not only about the gross overdevelopment of New Garden and the unconscionable intrusion into Garden Lake Drive but also the power wielded by developers over our elected officials to make your voice heard. Please go to and sign the petition and, if you care to, make a comment. In the future most of my rantings on this subject will be made on the blog, so please visit often.

But past my own travails, it occurs to me that I’ve become too committed, bordering on obsessed, with this issue to let it die once this personal confrontation is over. There are larger battles to be fought, one neighborhood at a time, that will determine whether Greensboro becomes one long strip mall or retains any semblance of Southern charm, with green spaces, patches of woods, walking and biking trails and front-porch neighborhoods.

At this stage I have more questions than answers, but some of the questions I intend to ask are:

Given that Greensboro has hundreds of vacant and/or underutilized buildings, many with historical significance, should we not encourage infill development rather than continue to sprawl all the way to Summerfield, Browns Summit, Whitsett and Kernersville?

Given that downtown is experiencing a major residential resurgence, should we not do everything possible to encourage and support that trend, rather than continue to build condo after condo on the outskirts?

Given that when businesses look to relocate, they give a lot of weight to quality-of-life factors, should that not be as important to elected officials as increasing the tax base by incessant building?

Given that the Comprehensive Plan was supposed to provide a blueprint for development up to 2025, should we not adhere to it every now and then?

Given that developers, builders, realtors and the lawyers who represent them who sit on the city council and county commission are voting on vested interests every time a zoning change or development issue comes before them, should they not be forced to recuse themselves? (Thanks to well-known blogger Chewie for this one)

Ideally they should not be allowed to hold public office at that level, but that’s another of those windmill-tilters we’ll not win in this lifetime.

To sign the petition or comment on this story, go to He may be reached at