With battle won, the war still rages

by Ogi Overman

The letter mailed June 14 was brief and to the point. Originating from the law offices of Isaacson, Isaacson & Sheridan, and signed by Marc L. ‘“Zoning Stud’” Isaacson (OK, I added the ‘“Zoning Stud’” part) with instructions to be hand delivered to Honorable Keith Holliday and mailed to several other interested parties, its purpose was to notify the Greensboro City Council and Planning Department of his clients’ intention to withdraw the rezoning applications for the properties at the corners of New Garden Road and Garden Lake Drive. It arrived even as those of us in the neighborhood were still getting signatures on our petitions, handing out flyers asking folks to attend the June 20 City Council meeting and preparing our arguments to be presented at said meeting. Coming, as it did, completely out of the blue, it made for a round of handshakes, hugs, pats on the back and a more relaxing weekend than we’d anticipated.

But we stopped short of setting off fireworks, breaking out the bubbly and turning backflips. Here’s why.

When the story hit the News & Record on June 20, a cursory reading disclosed that developers have dropped their plans to build a Walgreen’s and a bank at the entrance to our neighborhood. From that, many would infer that those of us who vocally and actively opposed the plan had won, that we’d curtailed development on our side of the street and into our inner neighborhood, that getting organized and getting busy can actually stymie rampant commercialism and strike a blow for Mother Earth.

Mm-hmm. Just like the massive, citywide petition drive organized by Nancy Mincello Vaughan a decade ago stopped development on the other side of New Garden in its tracks.

Nope, what we got here was a temporary reprieve, a small victory, a little breathing room masquerading as a glimmer of hope. As my neighbor Allen Bradley said in the N&R story, ‘“We know that we can’t stop. We can’t rest, because the developers will keep at it. And if these developers finally give up, there will be more behind them wanting to do the same thing.’”

Allen’s been here over 35 years; he knows the drill. He’s watched the transformation of the prettiest stretch of road in all of Greensboro into just another faceless, characterless row of banks and restaurant chains. And, like the rest of us, he’s bracing for the worst. In October we’ll be graced with a Target store and after that the bottom will fall out, as no fewer than 15 (and counting) businesses have plans to break ground on the property where the Battle of Guilford Courthouse was reenacted a few months ago. And once all those establishments are up and running, a drug store and another bank across the street won’t look so bad or make much difference, now will it?

And, of course, Isaacson knows this, as one sentence from his letter reveals: ‘“We believe that, with additional time and input from others involved, we can revisit these properties and present a plan that will meet the objectives of the Comprehensive Plan for this area.’”

He didn’t get to be Zoning Stud for nothin’, you know.

Now, before I go any further, a heartfelt thank you to the mayor and city council is in order. I am coming to believe that the current council, more so than the previous incarnation, truly does listen to neighborhood concerns and tries to balance them with ‘“increasing the tax base.’”

Three of the five members who overruled the Zoning Commission and allowed the overly dense condos to be built in my backyard are gone (Perkins, Vaughan, Burroughs-White), and so far the three who supplanted them ‘— Barber, Groat and Wells ‘— appear to be receptive to the notion that inner neighborhoods deserve protection from encroachment.

But by the time this issue comes up again, who knows what the composition and tenor of the council may be? In a couple of years, with the east side of New Garden more closely resembling West Wendover, Battleground and High Point Road than the acreage where wild horses used to roam behind stately cedars and split rail fences, a couple more businesses will be more palpable and less controversial than now. And if not, certainly another condominium development will be proposed. The only difference (to the developers) would be making a huge profit rather than an obscene profit.

While I am proud of the efforts of my neighborhood in getting organized to oppose this rezoning, the cold, hard truth is that eventually it will not be enough. Petitions, e-mails and phone calls to councilmembers, websites, blogs and all those things we did to become the greasy wheel are great and wonderful devices that prove you can fight city hall. But to fight developers in Greensboro, North Carolina it will take more. Much more.

After a much-needed Bush bash next week, I’ll tell you what it will take in the following issue.

Ogi may be reached at; heard each Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. on ‘“The Dusty Dunn Show’” on WGOS 1070 AM; and seen each Friday at 6:30 a.m. on ABC45 and Sunday at 10 p.m. on UPN48 on ‘“Triad Today.’” His blog is