Ten Best! Items Overshadowed by Mitch Johnson’s Firing
Council approves medical marijuana study
The world did not stop when the Greensboro City Council fired Mitchell Johnson from his post as city manager on March 3. Notwithstanding some major personnel drama, city government has to continue to operate. For example, the council tacked an item considering a resolution to endorse a medical marijuana study championed by a man dressed in a suit and wearing a tattoo teardrop, tattooed hands and a tattooed neck who is working with NC Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford). The council approved the resolution by a vote of 7 to 2, if only to learn what “medical marijuana” actually is. — District 2 Councilwoman Goldie Wells and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny opposed it.
Traffic complaints from East Lee Street residents
Residents of the East Lee Street area have expressed support for Gateway Gardens, a park billed as the equivalent of the Arboretum and the Bog, to be built across from the planned Gateway University Research Park, but several who attended the March 3 meeting objected that they had not been adequately consulted and that an entrance on Lee Street would put children at risk crossing from the north side of the thoroughfare. Dianne Bellamy-Small, whose district encompasses the area, protested, “You put a children’s garden across the street, and children are going to come. How many children are going to die, and we end up saying, ‘Oops, we made a mistake.’ We want the park, but we want it done right.” At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins dismissed the concerns. “I hate to see a project in east Greensboro that has been this long coming, when the city’s made a commitment to spend millions of dollars, put on the shelf because of traffic concerns that the traffic experts say are not valid,” he said. “The issue of crossing a street is just there, and you have to do it if you’re going to be a pedestrian in this city…. This is one of the things that’s going to really polish up that area, and make it attractive for business.” Request for sidewalks by Heath community residents
The residents of the Heath community have fought a succession of salvage yards, and to add insult to injury they don’t have sidewalks on three major thoroughfares. Community leader Patricia Alexander has had harsh words in the past for Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Anderson Groat for a 2006 vote to approve a special-use permit for Salvage America, but this time the councilwoman was speaking up for the residents. “I’ll tell you,” she said. “The people that are walking up Holts Chapel Road, I’m surprised no one’s been hit because very often you’ll have two people and maybe a couple of children or maybe a buggy, because they have to walk up there to get milk and bread. And I did talk to [former Transportation Director] Jim Westmoreland about that a couple times, but we just couldn’t seem to get it done. But we did get that red light up there, didn’t we?” Sidewalks for Holts Chapel Road are not among the projects undertaken with funds from the 2000 Street Improvement Bond, and some council members wanted to know why. “Quite frankly, there are a lot of needs in Greensboro for sidewalks, and we’ll continue to look for sources,” Acting Transportation Director Adam Fischer explained. “It’s complicated because there are no curbs and gutters, and that significantly raises the price.” Water and sewer service for annexed areas
When the city council voted to annex a large swath of land northwest of Greensboro in 2007, staff acknowledged that at least initially the cost of extending services would likely outpace new tax revenue, but Assistant City Manager Bob Morgan said the vast majority of the residents already used city water and sewer service, so the city would need to spend little if anything on those amenities. But on March 3, council plowed through a handful of recommendations for sewer and water line improvements to newly annexed areas, and approved a total of $181,200 in new infrastructure. Replacement of Lake Townsend Dam
The council unanimously approved a $15 million contract to Crowder Construction for the replacement of the Lake Townsend Dam, which holds the city’s water supply. Water Resources Director Allan Williams told council the project, including building a new pump station, is likely to run the city a total of $38 million to $40 million. He gave the good news first: The replacement project, originally estimated at about $29 million, was bid at about half that price by Crowder. Then the bad news: “We will be having to issue a change order to the engineering company, which is actually a local engineering company for somewhere between four and four and a half million dollars for the quality-assurance, quality-control and construction administration. It’s a very tricky project… the de-watering and the maintaining of the existing dam is going to be critical.” Affordable housing development on Old Randleman Road
The council heard an appeal to a denial by the zoning commission on a rezoning request allowing Affordable Housing Management, a developer backed by the Greensboro Housing Coalition, to build a 72-unit apartment complex on Old Randleman Road. The proposed development is sited outside of the urban loop and the Planning Department has noted that “there is insufficient sewer capacity to service” the apartments. The developer thoughtfully committed to installing bike racks and providing an easement for a bus stop. A biracial coalition of neighboring residents complained that the area doesn’t yet have the capacity to support an apartment complex, but council approved it in a 7-2 vote, with Groat and at-large Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw voting in opposition. Bellamy-Small, in whose district the property lies, took issue with questions about how well the tenants would be screened. “Renters are held to a higher standard than homeowners,” she said, “whereas if I have the money to buy a house, I could move in and be a mass murderer, for all you know.”
$1 million economic development outlay for GTCC
Directly following its 5-4 vote to relieve Mitchell Johnson of his duties as manager, the council took up the matter of a $1 million economic development outlay for GTCC to install water and sewer service. At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins recused himself because his real-estate company, NAI Piedmont Triad, has properties listed in the area, and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny sat out for unstated reasons. The agenda included no supporting materials for why water and sewer for the community college qualified as an economic development project, and no one showed up to speak in favor or against the proposal. The council was either too weary or unconcerned to discuss the item. Bellamy-Small moved it, and it passed unanimously. Moving expenses
The council approved a $225,942 to cover the costs of moving a house on Blandwood Avenue, characterized by property owner Virginia Zenke as being in the path of the “expanding incarceration complex to come,” to the College Hill neighborhood. “Roy Carroll called the CenterPoint project ‘Greensboro’s largest preservation project,’ and this we hope will follow suit,” Zenke said. “Preservation is the ultimate recycling. You keep a large amount of trash out of the landfill. You are reusing old buildings.”
Jordan Lake Rules
This one is actually somewhat related to the departure of Mitchell Johnson. As the meeting wound down, District 4 Councilman Mike Barber grilled Assistant City Manager Denise Turner and Water Resources Director Allan Johnson about their lobbying efforts related to the Jordan Lake Rules, a proposed set of regulations that would impose significant costs on the city to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous loads in the Haw River. Barber contended that the staff did not follow council’s direction. Turner explained: “The goal of the staff has been to oppose the Jordan Lake Rules and then to work towards rules that would be more obliging in terms of expecting that some rules will be put in place.” Barber was not satisfied: “The most troubling thing about this is I had a legislator call me up and say, ‘Hey Barber, I don’t understand. I thought you guys were against this.’ ‘Well, we are.’ ‘Well, that’s not what your staff is saying. Your staff is prepared to pass 90 percent of this, that they’re in support of seven out of the eight items.’”
North Carolina Marathon
One of council’s more enterprising members, Barber introduced a resolution to have the city cosponsor the North Carolina Marathon, which will be run in High Point instead of Greensboro this year. At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins, a runner who often tacks against Barber, sniffed, “The first race that was held here in Greensboro, there were obvious deficiencies in the execution of the race, and it’s going to High Point. My recommendation would be let’s see how it does in High Point, see if they can pull off a race that the course is measured correctly, that they have mile markers in place and timers — things that runners expect in a championship event.” Barber riposted, “This is interesting because Robbie is a world-class runner from Duke and I run on a treadmill and then immediately go to a buffet, and yet I support [it], so this is quite a unique role reversal.” Council voted to table the matter.