City seeking applicants for redevelopment group

By Tom Joyce

April 17, 2014

Two weeks after a controversial redevelopment commission was approved by Mount Airy officials, a procedure was unveiled Thursday night for citizens to apply to become members of the group.

In all, seven people will serve on the redevelopment commission, which will be charged with identifying blighted areas in town and developing plans to address them.

The city board of commissioners OK’d the group’s formation in a split vote on April 3, after several weeks of community debate centered on citizen concerns that the move could erode private property rights. The redevelopment group will have wide-ranging powers, including the seizure of blighted areas through eminent domain.

Supporters of the commission say it is aimed at encouraging private investment in such locations, and stimulating economic development and job creation.

One change city officials did make in its original concept when voting to approve the commission on April 3 was specifying that its purview will be limited to commercial properties deemed as blighted and not residential ones. Some citizens had stated at hearings and public forums that they feared people’s homes being taken if the owners lacked the funds to keep them in good shape.

Another apparent concession made by municipal leaders was agreeing to have two members of the board of commissioners serve with the redevelopment group. This was a response to charges by some critics that members of the commission would not be accountable to voters for any actions it took.

Commissioner Jon Cawley — who voted against its creation — had lobbied unsuccessfully for the five commissioners to serve as the redevelopment commission, which is permitted by state law. However, other board members said they wouldn’t have the time to devote to the work of a group which could prove extensive.

Two commissioners, Jim Armbrister and Steve Yokeley, did agree to serve.

Citizen Applicants

Under state law, a redevelopment commission can have up to nine members, but Mount Airy officials have opted for seven.

Along with commissioners Armbrister and Yokeley, five “qualified persons” from the community at large will be on the group.

Mayor Deborah Cochran provided details on the application process near the end of a commissioners meeting Thursday night, acknowledging that questions about it had been received from the public since the April 3 meeting.

The five members now being sought must be residents of the city of Mount Airy. And, based on sentiments expressed at the last meeting, those members should have expertise in a related field — such as real estate or finance — which would make them qualified to serve on the commission.

Persons interested must indicate that in writing, by submitting his or her name, address and credentials for membership to personnel at City Hall.

The deadline for making that interest known is May 1. All names should be submitted to City Clerk Nicki Brame at or Deputy Clerk Carolyn Hegler at Additional information can be obtained at 786-3501.

Mayor Cochran said the members will be chosen at the next council meeting on May 15.

In addition to being empowered under the state’s urban development law to seize commercial or residential parcels deemed as blighted, the commission will have other powers. These include the authority to clear property by razing existing buildings; install or construct site improvements; enter into contracts for construction, demolition, moving of structures and repair work; and implement programs of compulsory repair and rehabilitation using minimum building codes.

Webb Defends Board

The decision by the majority of the city commissioners to approve the redevelopment commission was applauded Thursday night by local businessman Tom Webb during a public forum portion of the meeting.

Webb said he was disturbed by “slanderous” comments leveled toward council members during the recent debate, and said the community should appreciate what they have done.

He cited past redevelopment efforts in Mount Airy which resulted in much-needed projects such as the public parking lot on Franklin Street.

There is a need for jobs locally, which Webb said the new redevelopment commission will be seeking to address.

But without such efforts, the same economic trends that have brought employment losses over the past 10 to 15 years will continue, Webb said.

Commissioner Shirley Brinkley made a special point Thursday night to thank Webb for his comments.

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