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Fear and loathing on New Garden Road

by Ogi Overman

The reenactment of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse was held a couple of weekends ago, not at the Battleground as usual, but at Price Park, at the corner of New Garden and Hobbs roads. But the real modern-day battle, the battle between developers and the neighborhood, will be fought across the street. And, just as in the reenactment, the winner is preordained.

My rude introduction to the city’s various zoning battles began exactly 10 years ago, the morning bulldozers were pushing over the stately cedar trees that once lined the Jefferson-Pilot property along a quarter-mile stretch of New Garden Road. On my way to work that morning, my first impulse was to swerve off the road and park my car in front of one of the dozers and lie down in front of the other. That tactic had worked at ECU in 1969 when the city was uprooting an eight-foot hedgerow that buffered the campus from Fifth Street. Somehow every hippie in Greenville got word that morning that a travesty was underway and rallied to the site, massing in front of the Philosophy House to quickly plan our strategy. We decided that our only immediate course of action was to lie down in front of the heavy equipment while someone called the Greenville Daily Reflector and tipped them off to a photo op.

Last time I was in Greenville, that hedgerow was still there.

But that was then, this is now, and rather than let my freak flag fly and do the radical thing, I motored on to work and dashed off a sardonic, pithy column I titled ‘“A Good Ride Spoiled,’” a play on the John Feinstein book that was then riding the best-seller list. As the land began being developed, first with a five-story white elephant that sat 100 percent unoccupied for at least three years, I continued to fire off angry screeds over the destruction of what I’d considered to be the most beautiful road in Greensboro when we moved here in 1973.

Of course, all of that was to no avail, just as the petition circulated by Nancy Mincello-Vaughan and signed by me and thousands of my fellow Gate Citians only forestalled the inevitable. Today that white elephant is corporate home to FNB Southeast; on one side are four branch banks, with two more under construction and a restaurant; on the other, across Hobbs Road, are the reenactment scene and Jefferson Elementary. Price Park, incidentally, was a one-time-only location for the event, as by next year that relatively pristine acreage too will be developed, as will the land behind Banker’s Alley, as a Target is set to open there Oct. 8.

(A friend, trying to look on the bright side, told me with a straight face, ‘“Well, as least it’s not a Wal-Mart.’” He really did mean well, so I didn’t smack him.)

Now, here’s the bitter irony: In the face of all that, five years ago my wife and I found our dream home, and it sat ‘— of all places ‘— about 150 yards off of New Garden, but across the street and down the hill from the carnage. We knew the old J-P property was a lost cause but naively felt that the other side of the street would remain relatively unscathed. After all, it was zoned single-family residential and the city’s Comprehensive Plan recommended that it stay that way. Plus, it was an inner neighborhood in an environmentally sensitive area, with streams running through it and feeding five ponds nearby.

Today, however, we are faced with the sad reality that none of that matters when there’s a buck to be made. The Comp Plan has already been essentially shredded and cast aside by the City Council and the New Garden corridor has been thrown to the wolves. As I mentioned in last week’s diatribe, two large condo developments are going up behind us, to be followed by another bank and Walgreen’s, both at the corners on our side of New Garden.

Sure, they have to be approved by the City Council, but that’s a mere formality. (Incidentally, it doesn’t matter whether the Zoning Commission approves the zoning change or not, as we found out when they recommended not to allow the first condo village in our back yard but were overruled by the City Council, which has final say-so.)

Oh, we’ll fight it ‘— April 10 and May 2 are the public hearing dates for Zoning Commission and City Council, respectively. We’ll present our arguments: that an invisible barrier has been crossed by encroaching on the inner neighborhood, that to develop a prime thoroughfare is sad enough but to destroy an established, functioning, long-standing neighborhood is unconscionable.

And, of course, brothers and sisters, we’ll lose.

Ogi can be reached at ogi@yesweekly.com, heard each Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. on ‘“The Dusty Dunn Show’” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on ‘“Triad Today’” Friday at 6:30 a.m. on ABC45 and Sunday at 10 p.m. on UPN48.

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