Ogi tells us of Fear and loathing in Friendly Acres
And here I was, whining about a couple of dozen trees.
Sure, I’d felt violated, encroached upon, taken advantage of and abused over the removal of that natural buffer between my backyard and the adjacent, soon-to-be bustling condo village, but when I picked up Saturday’s News & Record those emotions turned to absolute fury and outrage. My situation was suddenly rendered inconsequential compared to the mistreatment inflicted on a family a couple of miles down the road. I have seen greed and injustice disguised as progress many times, but what I saw that morning fell nothing short of pure evil. If you think I was pissed while threatening to chain myself to a tree, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, ba-ba-ba-baby.
And apparently my indignation is shared by quite a few other residents of this schizophrenic burg. It was late afternoon Tuesday before I could bring myself to visit the scene of the crime ‘— and I use the word ‘crime’ literally ‘— and not knowing the exact street address was able to find it merely by following the traffic. Three full days after the story broke, and there was still a steady stream of cars ‘— which surely must have thrilled the upper-crust neighborhood no end.
How ironic that it is those upper-crust neighbors who created the situation in the first place. Maybe they’ll try to have our cars confiscated for infringing on their privacy, which, to my way of thinking, would be no more absurd than what they’ve done to one of their own neighbors.
In case you were out of town over the July Fourth weekend, here’s a thumbnail of the travesty. (For the full story, written by the Triad’s premier feature writer, Jim Schlosser, go to the N&R archives online.) An A&T professor, Mohamad Haj-Mohamadi, and his wife, Zahra Rezvani, emigrated from Iran to the U.S. in 1978 and eventually bought a home in the posh Friendly Acres neighborhood (off New Garden near Brassfield) and four years ago began building an elaborate fountain and waterfall in their front yard. Dr. Haj-Mohamadi, who holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, did almost all the work himself, putting $100,000 of his own money into materials alone, not counting the sweat equity. For reasons known only to themselves, eight members of the neighborhood association and the Starmount Co., which developed the property, brought suit against the naturalized citizens, forcing a jury trail. Proving yet again that our system of justice is tragically flawed (my words, not Schlosser’s), the jury ruled that Haj-Mohamadi had violated one of the neighborhood association’s covenants against nuisances and annoyances and a restriction on structures being built within 50 feet of the property line. They ruled that he had 90 days to begin demolishing his dream ‘— at his own expense ‘— and 30 days to finish.
When I stopped by there last week, a backhoe and tow motor were still on the property, but most of the exquisite brickwork and mosaic tiles had already been demolished and hauled off. Four years worth of TLC took less than four days to destroy.
This, brothers and sisters, was not Greensboro’s finest hour.
While it is obviously too late to restore Haj-Mohamadi’s shattered dream, there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding this whole sorry episode. To wit:
‘• Why did the neighbors wait until he had finished the project and was getting ready to switch on the lighted fountain and waterfall before serving the restraining order?
‘• Why did the city issue Haj-Mohamadi building permits and inspect the project yet not come to his defense?
‘• Could the power wielded by Starmount have caused the city to fall strangely silent?
‘• Why did Starmount not contact the family after May 2001 to tell them they were in violation?
‘• Is there any way for the couple to recoup any of their $100,000 investment, $15,000 to $20,000 for the demolition and $12,000 to $13,000 in legal fees?
Then there is the larger question: From where do neighborhood associations derive their power, and does the city ever have a legal right to overrule them?
Also there are a few big-picture questions, such as:
‘• Do the eight neighbors who filed suit now feel a sense of satisfaction and, if so, how do they sleep at night?
‘• How does the couple now feel about their adopted country and community?
‘• How can you and I sit idly by and not try to do something ‘— anything ‘— to right this wrong?
Trust me, we haven’t heard the last of this. Something in my gut tells me Greensboro has too big a collective heart to let this cruel situation go unresolved.
And they call this Friendly Acres’….
Ogi can be reached at email@example.com and heard each Tuesday at 9:35 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM.