After a lengthy, and sometimes-spirited, discussion Thursday night in a meeting room packed with citizens, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to expand the city’s Municipal Service District — but with wholesale changes.
This included the removal of six parcels, or one-third, of the 18 properties targeted originally for annexation into the district where an extra tax is levied on owners to fund projects such as parking lots. And the effective date of the annexation won’t be until July 1, 2015, a year later than first proposed.
For years, the MSD has largely included the North Main Street corridor, but the group Mount Airy Downtown Inc. recommended the expansion to take in the former Spencer’s Inc. complex along with properties on Willow, Pine and Franklin streets and Independence Boulevard. The reason cited was to have more development and control over what is deemed a “gateway” to the downtown.
That plan met with opposition from some of those affected, such as Carter Bank & Trust at the corner of Independence and Willow, and Triple C of Mount Airy, which owns property at the far end of Franklin Street.
Representatives of those entities have argued that they do not consider themselves part of the downtown improvement area and could see no benefits from being taxed at the rate of 21 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, in addition to regular property taxes. The opposition included a letter-writing campaign by the Triple C group, which includes former mayoral candidate Gene Clark.
“There are some who are a lot closer to downtown than we are who are not in it (the MSD),” Clark said Thursday night when citizens were allowed to comment on the plan.
This led to the decision to exclude from the expansion the Carter Bank site, along with parcels at the end of Franklin Street owned by both Triple C and James W. Collins; and three properties between Pine and Franklin streets owned by Collins, Gloria McNeill and JHS Master Capital of Asheboro. Included is the former Koozie’s nightclub, which closed several years ago.
Two residences will still be in the district, with Thursday’s vote contingent on ensuring that a requirement is being met for at least 12.5 percent of the properties taken in adjoining the present MSD.
Before the 3-2 decision, another motion by Commissioner Steve Yokeley to just omit the Carter Bank property failed in a 4-1 vote.
The measure to remove all six sites was backed by commissioners Jon Cawley, Shirley Brinkley and Dean Brown, and opposed by Yokeley and Jim Armbrister.
But the ultimate decision did not come easily, including the commissioners engaging in a philosophical debate about the intent of the expansion.
While board members support what the MSD has accomplished in its 39-year existence, there was also sentiment for not forcing property owners to be included.
“I detest forced annexation,” Brinkley said. “I detest forced anything.”
If a property owner does not see the value of being part of the MSD, that person should not be included, according to Brown. “He should have the right not to be a part of it,” the veteran commissioner said.
Cawley agreed with Brown, saying that people do have rights. “Our goal is to do what’s right,” he said of the board’s responsibility — and doing what is right is to include only those who want to be part of the MSD.
“Let’s do it like we’ve done for the last 40 years,” Cawley said of the MSD, and let people be in it voluntarily.
However, there was disagreement between Cawley and Brinkley on another issue that emerged, regarding the idea of annexing sites based on their appearance.
This was suggested by Brinkley, who said she would be willing to take out property including the Carter Bank site, but not the former Koozie’s building at the corner of Franklin and South streets and property in the same vicinity owned by Collins.
“The Koozie’s building is ugly — it’s an eyesore,” said Brinkley, who later apologized for her comments.
But they brought an immediate response from Cawley. “I know they’re an eyesore — but this is America,” he said.
Cawley said that basing properties’ inclusion in the expanded MSD on aesthetics reinforces citizen fears about the recent formation of a city redevelopment commission.
Its mission will be to identify blighted areas and rectify them by measures include seizing property by eminent domain, which some viewed as a way for government to eradicate those with appearance issues.
Cawley said making decisions according to aesthetics is exactly what the public has feared. He added that while downtown Mount Airy is an attractive venue overall, even it is not immune based on a recent plane ride he took.
“The roofs of our downtown buildings look awful from the air,” he said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.