Last week four members of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners publicly took another city body to task, when the commissioners said they do not believe the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission should have declared a number of private properties in the city’s redevelopment zone as “blighted.”
The Redevelopment Commission had earlier this month taken action, voting to declare the former Spencer’s industrial site as “blighted.” The city owns that site, after having secretly purchased it at auction more than a year ago. Presumably, the blighted designation is a step toward the city seeking some federal and state grants that could help with the cost of redevelopment there.
Problem is, the Redevelopment Commission didn’t stop there. It extended the “blighted” label to a number of privately owned commercial properties on surrounding streets.
The designation names the businesses, along with their addresses, and gives them designations such as deteriorating, dilapidated, and obsolescent. In at least one case a local business is accused of having a “faulty lot layout in relation to size, adequacy, accessibility or usefulness,” and all of the designations are said to have “seriously adverse effects on surrounding development.”
As one can imagine, a few of these property owners are upset over this, because such designations can have adverse affects on their ability to continue doing business, and certainly hurts the value of their property. Not to mention the fact that we question who the Redevelopment Commission is to be making judgments as to private land use and layout. If a lot layout meets the needs of the property owner, then the city government has no business labeling it as “faulty” or inadequate.
Having this action taken — by an unelected body — also reawakens fears that the city is preparing to force property owners to make expensive, and sometimes unneeded, upgrades to their property or face having their land and buildings taken by eminent domain. At least one city commissioner has already made statements to that effect, that she would be willing to do whatever is needed to bring property into compliance with her version of acceptable aesthetics, even if the rights of individual private property owners are injured in the process.
While it’s good to see that four of the city commissioners have listened to their constituents and now oppose these designations — Steve Yokeley still supports the Redevelopment Commission’s action — none of Mount Airy’s commissioners should be surprised.
The Redevelopment Commission was formed by the city board members during a series of secret — and possibly illegal — meetings among themselves and a few, select downtown business owners and managers. The city — again in secret — contracted with local businessman Gene Rees to bid on the Spencer’s property under false pretenses, acting as if he were going to buy the property when in fact he was working as an agent of the commissioners. And then the board, against widespread and vocal dissent from city residents, formed the redevelopment commission — a quasi-governing body that has no direct link to voters.
This whole process has the aura of dirty back room dealing, of a few attempting to benefit at the expense of the many. That the Redevelopment Commission is taking these steps, regardless of the fallout for those being swept up in its actions, comes as no surprise to many, and we fear may become the norm.