The members of a controversial redevelopment commission in Mount Airy are now in place — but the question is, what happens now?
Five nominees for the group, who had been pared from a pool of 17 by Mayor Deborah Cochran, were presented to the city board of commissioners for final approval, which the board did in a 5-0 vote Thursday night.
They include Alton Gaither, Grady “Chip” Pulliam III, Jarod Simmons, Tom Webb and Marie Wood. The five will serve as at-large members of the seven-member commission, which was formed to identify blighted areas in the city and formulate plans for making them economically viable.
In addition to those five, the redevelopment group will have two city commissioners as ex-officio members, Jon Cawley and Steve Yokeley. Originally, Commissioner Jim Armbrister agreed to serve, but later decided against doing so, a city government source said.
Ironically, Cawley had voted against forming the commission, which was approved by the majority of the commissioners on April 3.
At the time, Cawley questioned whether a new group was needed to accomplish a key redevelopment goal of building public-private partnerships for various projects. He also pushed for the five council members to serve as the redevelopment commission, which is allowable under state law, which meant they would be accountable at election time for any actions taken.
Cawley also was agreeable to having four community members serve along with the five commissioners, with up to nine members permitted by law.
In proceeding with the wishes of the board majority to have five at-large community members on the new group, the mayor said she strived for diversity. “It was not an easy task,” Cochran said. “The selection process for the redevelopment commission was extremely challenging.”
The resulting makeup of the group includes a female (Wood) with professional accounting experience; an African-American, Gaither, who serves on the Housing Authority of Mount Airy governing board; Grady “Chip” Pulliam III, who has experience in the investment services and financial consultant fields; a younger person, Jarod Simmons, who also has credentials in construction management; and Tom Webb, a longtime local businessman who is a former grants administrator for the city government and is well-versed in redevelopment issues.
“I wouldn’t have wanted your job,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley told the mayor regarding the picking of the finalists. “Your choices appear to be very, very good and I look forward to seeing what develops from this.”
The board’s Dean Brown also was pleased with the results. “I want to thank the mayor for all the hard work she’s done on the redevelopment commission,” he said.
Many citizens were distrustful about and urged city officials not to form the redevelopment commission, which will have extensive powers, including being able to seize blighted property through eminent domain.
The redevelopment commission also will be empowered 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.
It will have leeway that a board of commissioners lacks, such as investing in private property, City Attorney Hugh Campbell has said. The group’s efforts will be limited to commercial properties, due to a change in original guidelines prompted by citizen concerns about seizing allegedly rundown residential sites for projects such as shopping centers or condominiums.
Officials have disclosed in recent days that the creation of the new group, plans for which were discussed several times in closed session, was sparked by former industrial buildings of Spencer’s Inc. being put up for auction earlier this year. Most of the property there was purchased by the city on Thursday through Gene Rees, who acted as a bidding agent for the municipality.
The redevelopment commission gives the local bureaucracy a way to control what happens on that property in the downtown area, with municipal officials saying that job creation will be the chief goal.
This is not Mount Airy’s first redevelopment commission.
Checks of newspaper files show that past uses of such groups included a move in the early 1960s to secured dilapidated houses and land to construct public housing units in Mount Airy.
Commissioner Steve Yokeley said when the vote was taken that present board members probably will not live to see all the development resulting from the new organization.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.