…And never the twain shall meet
There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy; it’s only you and me and we just disagree
‘— Dave Mason
It was an odd assemblage of souls to begin with, but the 40-degree weather on the second Monday of May gave it an almost surreal quality. As nippy as the morning was, the contentious nature of the meeting made it feel even frostier. The coffee and doughnuts provided by our hosts helped break the ice, but nothing could thaw the arctic freeze that existed between the two sides.
Not that the other side didn’t try. They brought out the diplomatic heavy artillery (oxymoronic though that sounds) but our side was already fortified, our foxholes secure, our ammo belts full. Nope, on this day, this bunch of irate property owners were locked and loaded, not about to be outflanked by a couple of slick developers and their Studly Whiplash mouthpiece.
This meeting had been set up by the developer, Frank Mellon, in an attempt to mollify the neighborhood being encroached upon by his proposed commercial development. Specifically, his plan is to demolish five existing homes at or near the intersection of New Garden Road and Garden Lake Drive and replace them with a Walgreen’s drugstore and a yet-unnamed bank we’ll call ‘— strictly for illustrative purposes ‘— Mark and Frank’s Fidelity Bank. But first the two corners of the properties in question have to be rezoned, and on that count the developers had already dropped both ends of a twin bill, 8-0 and 7-1, at the hands of the Zoning Commission.
Hence the meeting, to find a way to get the neighborhood to drop or at least tone down its opposition to the development before it goes before city council. In fact, the hearing had originally been scheduled for the May 2 and May 16 city council meetings but attorney Mark ‘“Zoning Stud’” Isaacson got it continued to June 20 because he knew he didn’t have the votes to win.
So there stood Isaacson; Mellon; another developer named Mark Reynolds, who somehow has a dog in the fight; Mr. and Mrs. Hanover, owners of one of the homes on New Garden that will be demolished and in whose carport we held this bizarre gathering; and on the other side seven neighbors in Garden Lake Estates who seem to be ramrodding the opposition.
The developers brought some maps detailing changes to the plan that were intended to ease our concerns about increased traffic, buffers, opening Pandora’s box, ruining the character of the neighborhood, the domino effect and all the other arguments typically raised in zoning disputes. But it quickly became apparent that there was no room for compromise on this issue, that the only acceptable option was for them to withdraw the appeal of the Zoning Commission’s decision and simply scrap the project.
As the developers’ side was doing their best to convince us that it was in our best interests to take this offer because the next guy may come along and make one that’s even more intrusive, and our side was becoming increasingly adamant in refuting the fear-card argument, it suddenly dawned on me that not one word anybody said was going to make a speck of difference. And furthermore, that if the musical chairs were rearranged and we found ourselves in the other guy’s seat, each of us would be arguing the opposing points, making the other guy’s case.
If I were the Hanovers, for instance, I’d be selling out, too, since my quality of life has already been ruined by fivelanes of traffic and Bankers Alley across the street where horses used to roam. If I were the lawyer I’d be using every syllogistic trick in the book to buffet my client’s case. And if I were the developer I’d be contending that market forces dictate where development goes, that I am simply following the market and that I am acutely aware of the neighborhood’s concerns. Conversely, if they were in our shoes they’d be fighting with every tool at their disposal to protect their neighborhood and keep their property values from sinking through the floor.
They would be doing exactly what we’re doing and vice versa. Everyone standing around that table under that carport that cool morning was doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. It was not a matter of good versus evil but simply of good development versus bad development.
Obviously it is near impossible for me or any of the parties involved to separate ourselves from our personal stake in this situation and look at it objectively. Convinced though I am that our cause is just, so too is the other side.
I can only hope that the city council sees it our way June 20.
Ogi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 ABC 45 and Sunday at 10 p.m. on UPN 48. His blog is backtothegarden-ogi.blogspot.com.