City delays action on redevelopment group

By Tom Joyce

March 20, 2014

Mount Airy officials decided Thursday night that they need more time before acting on a controversial commission that would have vast powers for redevelopment projects including taking private property by eminent domain.

“This is a big, big thing and I think we need to be cautious,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said during a city council meeting when it came time for her and other members to act on the plan that has been roundly criticized by citizens.

That was the case two weeks earlier during a public hearing on the proposed forming of the commission that is viewed as a means of identifying blighted areas in town and developing plans to address them. The ultimate goal would be encouraging private investment in projects that would promote economic development on property that is not productive now.

Officials have said there are no target areas for redevelopment presently which are fueling the formation of the commission.

However, citizens said during the March 6 public hearing that they would be wary of assigning powers to such a group that would include acquiring blighted properties, possibly through eminent domain, and also the clearing of sites by razing existing buildings.

The commission, to be composed of up to nine members appointed by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, also could spearhead site improvements and enter into contracts for construction, demolition, moving of structures and repair work. It also could implement programs of compulsory repair and rehabilitation using minimum housing codes.

In addition to comments at the March 6 public hearing, some citizens attacked the redevelopment commission idea during a public forum portion of Thursday night’s meeting in which citizens could speak on any municipal government topic.

“Essentially what this thing does is create a mini-government,” said Bruce Springthorpe, one city resident. “And all this by people who aren’t elected,” he added of the proposed group’s membership.

“The power to take property should rest solely in the hands of elected officials,” Springthorpe said. Should the commission be formed, members basically would have a “free hand” on such issues — “it’s just a slap in the face to representative government,” he said.

After other comments during the public forum, Commissioner Steve Yokeley moved that action be postponed because there are unanswered questions the board should address before voting.

“I’d like to see us postpone this for two weeks,” Yokeley said. That will allow further study on issues such as how the commission members would be chosen and the group’s makeup, he said.

“I agree with most of what I hear,” Commissioner Brinkley said of the citizen concerns expressed during the board’s two March meetings. “And I agree with more time” being needed, she continued.

The commissioners voted 4-0 (with the board’s Jon Cawley absent) to postpone the vote to their next meeting on April 3, which begins at 2 p.m.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.