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Condos to the left of me, condos to the right

by Ogi Overman

My neighborhood’s temporary reprieve is over. As we all knew, our victory over the developer, Frank Mellon, who had planned to build a Walgreen’s and a bank on the corners of New Garden Road and Garden Lake Drive, would be a hollow one on the long run. And barring an organizing effort that will rival anything this city has ever seen, the handwriting on the wall will forever doom this once-tranquil, once-pastoral, once-idyllic stretch of landscape.

We fully expected that the developer would come back with a Plan B eventually but, truthfully, eventually came a bit sooner than we’d anticipated. These guys waste no time when there’s a boatload of dough on the line, so I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked. But what is truly appalling is the size and scope of the new plan; it dwarfs the original plan not by a little but by a lot. I suspect he wanted to keep it under wraps for a while longer but I caught wind of it and, well, you know how I am.

Here’s what I know about the deal so far. Mellon extended his contract with Walgreen’s for another year but the bank has gone bye-bye. Instead, the new version calls for a huge townhome community on the west side of New Garden that will be the residential equivalent of the monstrous commercial development underway on the east side. Not only will it extend to the north and south of the Walgreen’s fronting on New Garden by about a hundred yards one way and 75 the other but stretch well into the inner neighborhood by at least another football field. My understanding is that Mellon already has Fellowship Presbyterian Church on New Garden under contract, which was not part of the original deal, as well as the original five property owners. I don’t know the number of units or the density or the total acreage, but I do know that three more homes have been added to the list for demolition, including my across-the-street neighbor’s.

And mine.

My neighbor and I were two of the three homeowners who led the fight against the last proposed zoning change. He put up a web site and I started a blog, so by buying us out he has virtually silenced the opposition. Plus, the third neighbor, who led the petition drive, lives far enough away not to be directly affected, so he has won by default.

See, this is how developers always win: Every man has his price, including me, and if he offers me, say, three times market value, I’d be stupid to turn it down. Right? Right?

I’ve had some serious, heart-to-heart conversations about this with the people in whom I normally confide, as well as seeking some advice from a lawyer friend and a commercial developer friend (yes, believe it or not, I do have friends from among those two professions). And to a man and woman, they are unanimous in counseling me to sell out, to take the money and run. They tell me the neighborhood’s already shot to hell anyway, that the condos in my backyard (that still have no buffer as written in the condition of zoning, with litigation pending if the situation is not corrected soon) have already ruined my quality of life. They tell me I’ve fought the good fight but that the big boys are going to win eventually, and ask me how many times I am willing to go to war over this. They tell me to do the prudent thing and build a handicap-accessible home for Janet and take some of the burden off both of us. One even told me that the real reason the developer caved in last time was not because of the neighborhood’s organized opposition but rather because Highwoods Properties, which developed the Jefferson Pilot property and started the whole Muhlenberg County war, and Starmount Corporation, which owns Mr. Peabody’s coal train that hauled away the BI Building, opposed the plan. And if true, that may be the most depressing fact of all.

All of this is conjecture, as I have yet to even be approached by the developer or his lawyer. I did hear that Marc Isaacson, generally considered the finest zoning attorney in town (unless you count his daddy, Henry) is no longer representing Mr. Mellon, which I find rather curious. But if I were to receive an offer, what do I tell the Sierra Club, who asked me to address them next week? What do I tell my new neighbor who just moved here from Florida thinking he and his family had bought a home in a serene, established, secure neighborhood? What do I tell the Sizzling Seventeen who’ve applauded me for trying to stick it to the Man, for being the unrepentant hippie willing to chain himself to a tree if necessary?

What do I tell my conscience?

Ogi may be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com, heard Tuesdays 9:30-10 am on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen Fridays 6:30-7 am on ABC45 and Sundays 10-10:30 pm on MY48 on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth.

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