Berkeley Option is neighborhood’s last hope

by Ogi Overman

The irony is way beyond inescapable, approaching bizarre, bordering on surreal. Never in my most twisted fantasies would I have imagined that I’d be advocating this position and employing this tactic. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and you’re looking at one up-against-the-wall redneck muckraker.

I’ve been having an internal debate over this for months and have determined that it is the only way. The course of action I am about to embark upon is not the last best option but the only option. Anything less is a half-measure and will avail us nothing. I’ve checked my motives and they are just.

This final alternative I’ll call the Berkeley Option, named after former Greensboro city councilman Bill Berkeley. It was Berkeley, many of you will recall, who spearheaded the movement to outlaw the building of a downtown baseball stadium. He organized a masterful petition drive that put the issue before the voters, sparking a fiercely debated campaign and culminating in a high-turnout referendum which, of course, was defeated overwhelmingly.

Without getting into the many valid reasons the issue failed, the mere fact that Berkeley and his supporters got it on the ballot speaks volumes about the power of getting organized. Which is why, despite the fact that I was a vocal supporter of the stadium proposal and vociferous critic of the anti-stadium forces, I now find myself gearing up to utilize the exact same tactic.

I know: beyond ironic. The one difference, however, is that there may actually be enough support among the Greensboro electorate to give mine a chance of passing. The stadium ban was doomed to failure, quite frankly, because basically it was just a dumb idea.

To backtrack, my neighborhood, just off New Garden Road, has been involved in three contentious rezoning battles over the past couple of years (not counting the ones that preceded them). We lost the first two, resulting in an overly dense condo development in my backyard and some high-end townhomes abutting them, the runoff from both polluting the Canada geese pond next to our home. But we actually won the most recent one, preventing a Walgreen’s and a bank from being built at the entrance to our inner neighborhood. Still, we are not so naïve to think that our seeming triumph was anything more than a temporary reprieve. If I have learned anything from getting involved in these zoning disputes it is that the developers never lose. Once they zero in on a piece of property, they keep doing whatever it is that developers and lawyers do to make it palatable to the city or county and to appease enough of the neighboring homeowners so that sooner or later they’ll win. If Plan A fails, Plan B or Plan C will eventually get passed, either by lowering density, changing from commercial to mixed-use or multi-family residential, or by other, less transparent (wink, nod) means.

So, while the developers and lawyers are regrouping and reformulating a plan of attack to develop the west side of New Garden into a mirror image of the east side, which will be home to no fewer than 30 commercial businesses in a two-football-field stretch by 2008, so too is the opposition preparing to mount a counter-attack.

The Berkeley Option.

Last time we beat them back with petition drives, appeals to council members, setting up a website and blog, and generally getting organized. Still, I think the core reason we won was that putting up businesses at that corner was just a dumb idea. Next time, though, once the other side of New Garden is lit up like Vegas South, another couple of businesses across the street may not sound like such a dumb idea. And once they’re up and running, who cares if another, and then another, opens up nearby?

Well, I care. And I hope you’ll care enough to sign our petition. The law reads that one-fourth of the number of people who voted in the previous election, all of whom must be registered voters in Greensboro, must sign it. It must then be validated by the Board of Elections, whereupon it goes to the City Council for an up or down vote. Chances are it will be down, so it then goes on the ballot for the voters to decide.

I have not retained an attorney (although I’ve spoken to several) to firm up the legalese, but the law we’ll be petitioning for will say something to this effect: ‘“No properties on the west side of New Garden Road from the intersection of Bryan Boulevard to Guilford College-Jamestown Road will be rezoned for any purpose. Said properties’ present zoning designations will remain frozen in perpetuity.’”

The other side of the street is a lost cause, but the battle for our side has, as the Carpenters might say, only just begun.

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