Public to weigh in on RDC plan

By Tom Joyce -

A new year soon will be here, but a familiar issue will remain: the Westside Redevelopment Plan that has commanded the public’s attention in Mount Airy for most of the past two years.

And one of the first orders of business for 2016 will be a chance for citizens to weigh in on the plan, through a public hearing scheduled on Jan. 13. It will be held during a regular meeting of the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission (RDC) which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Municipal Building.

The redevelopment issue has created a division in the community and is rooted in the city government’s purchase of the former Spencer’s Inc. industrial buildings at a May 2014 auction of the downtown site. The commission was formed afterward to spearhead the revitalization, which has included drafting a plan for the area.

It has met with opposition due to private property on nearby Pine and South streets, 20 parcels altogether, including several thriving businesses, being injected into the Westside Redevelopment Plan against the property owners’ wishes. The area also has been declared “blighted” for purposes of the revitalization effort, for which grant funding and tax credits are sought, creating fears among commercial property owners about lowered real estate values.

The inclusion of the private property — which was the defining issue of the recent municipal election — is linked to efforts to develop an attractive “gateway” for projects such as a possible four-star hotel that could be developed on part of the Spencer’s site.

Because the redevelopment commission has the authority to take property by eminent domain, that also has sparked fear among owners that this option could be used against them.

However, redevelopment commission members repeatedly have insisted that they have no intentions of exercising the power of eminent domain and that their goal with the plan is to benefit everyone involved. Recently, they announced a grant program to provide financial assistance for owners to improve buildings, facades, landscaping and other facets and for demolition of structures.

Multiple hearings

Those on both sides of the issue will have a chance to voice comments on the plan during the Jan. 13 public hearing, but that won’t be the only opportunity to do so.

Chip Pulliam, the vice chairman of the redevelopment group, pointed out Wednesday that another public hearing also must be held by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners before the plan can receive final approval.

After the January hearing before the RDC, the plan will go the city planning board for review and it will have up to 45 days to make a recommendation on the document.

Upon receiving the planning board recommendation, the RDC will consider various findings as required by state law. These include considering whether the land-use and building requirements in the plan area are designed with the general purpose of accomplishing “a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the community and its environs.”

The law also says, among a lost list of other requirements, there must be a finding that the plan will promote the “prosperity and the general welfare” of the area overall.

Once this occurs, a public hearing on the redevelopment plan will be scheduled for a commissioners’ meeting, before it is officially adopted by the city and can be implemented.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce

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