Time to move forward on Spencer’s property


It is time for Mount Airy to move forward on development of the former Spencer’s property.

And only the Spencer’s property.

We haven’t changed our stand on this particular issue: Despite the constant din of those who try to convince the public the city’s secret purchase of the property did not run afoul of state laws, we still believe it was clearly illegal, and attorneys we’ve consulted with who specialize in open government laws were stunned when they learned of the city’s move.

They were equally flabbergasted at learning of the city’s secret meetings with a select group of businessmen in the city and formation of the city’s redevelopment commission.

And regardless of whether the two related moves were legal, it was clearly unethical and done in a manner to keep the work a secret from city taxpayers for as long as possible.

But, at this point, we tend to agree with comments made by local business man Gene Rees, who last week during remarks he made to the city redevelopment commission said that it is time to move forward on the Spencer’s property, if the city hopes to take advantage of potential grant money to be used for redeveloping that site.

The Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce likewise came out in support of moving forward on efforts to get redevelopment of the Spencer’s property under way.

That these two business fixtures in Mount Airy specifically focused on the Spencer’s property is telling.

As many who live in Mount Airy know, the city’s Redevelopment Commission ignored the city’s instructions to put together a plan for redevelopment of the Spencer’s site and instead put together a proposal that encompasses a host of other private property, labeling many of those properties as blighted and ill-used — without ever consulting with or including those private property owners in the formation of those plans. It is almost unfathomable that, even as late as last week, some of those property owners had not yet heard a word from the Redevelopment Commission.

Most of the city commissioners have clearly said they do not support that plan, and they have been disappointed the redevelopment group didn’t follow the explicit instructions they were given. While the redevelopment commission and its supporters respond to such criticism by saying “well, we followed the law,” everyone knows the commission members haven’t done the job they were appointed to do, and they haven’t cared one whit about the people most affected by their proposals — the individuals whose property have been swept up into this ill-conceived plan.

Last week, Rees acknowledged the controversy over the RDC’s plan had become a distraction to what the city wants done — the redevelopment of the former Spencer’s property. The chamber, in its statement, pointedly said it is time to move forward with developing that site, without mention of the rest of the area the redevelopment commission wants to take in. When pressed further on the matter, chamber officials simply said their focus was on the Spencer’s site.

As ill-conceived as the purchase of the Spencer’s property was, the reality is the city owns the land, and if the city taxpayers aren’t going to be stuck with a white elephant of a property, it’s time to move forward.

This is the moment for the city board to retake control of the process — at least while it can, before the November elections might put the redevelopment commission in charge.

Both Rees and the chamber make great sense in calling for the city to move forward with the Spencer’s property. The city commission should listen to them, scrap the Redevelopment Commission’s plan and move forward with the Spencer’s project, before it’s too late.

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