Former commissioner takes issue with redevelopment

To the Editor,

Having served for 12 years on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners and watching what this redevelopment issue has done to our city I feel the need to speak out. Many point to the annexation, which certainly occurred while I was on the Board, as being just as divisive an issue. It does not begin to compare. There was ZERO opinion voiced by citizens of the city in opposition to the annexation and those people were MY constituents. I listened to those I represented and to their silence and voted accordingly.

Redevelopment has been the most divisive issue in our town in the 20 years since I have called Mount Airy home. The end of back door garbage pick up which occurred in 1998/99 before I was elected is the only other thing that comes to mind and I do not recall it having this degree of impact. In short, it is my opinion, that the sooner redevelopment can be put behind us the sooner we can begin to work on restoring our sense of community.

I spoke early on in this process to each of the current Commissioners who I had served with and I told them of the dangers of the Commission as it was being formulated. The notion of giving condemnation powers to a non-elected board by creating a Commission to me was so totally foreign that I honestly had a hard time wrapping my head around such an idea. I felt, at the time, and this has come to fruition, that the concept would mushroom into something beyond its original intent. I offered the idea of keeping the commission and simply allowing it to designate properties in need of work, Then the city would offer those properties an 80/20 tax break over five years if the work was done. This is the standard incentive offered to businesses seeking to locate here and bring jobs and improve the tax base. Property repair would certainly fall into this category.

This idea gained no traction. And while that in and of itself is fine I do put the blame for allowing this issue to engulf our town in a fog of negativity squarely on the current Board of Commissioners. They should have known better. To me the handwriting was not only on the wall but it was clearly legible. To their credit many of them have reevaluated where they stand on this issue and for that I give credit where it is due.

It is not my purpose here to publicly endorse any candidate or candidate slate. I have respect and share a degree of friendship with many of the candidates who are running in this election. I simply wish to shed light on what I believe is the greater issue… the impact this is having on our sense of community. We possess no greater asset. This race has clearly become one where the incumbents, who seemingly want to allow redevelopment to continue only with the Spencer’s property, are pitted against a group that wants to continue beyond Spencer’s. And as I have called out the current Board of Commissioners I call out those candidates who apparently see redevelopment as the be all and end all of this campaign. In the larger scope of things it it is only one aspect of our town’s success and the penumbra of its impact needs to be taken into account.

I do not want this divisiveness to continue. redevelopment is not more important than our community. It is time to again appreciate the forest and not become bogged down looking at individual trees. Our community is our greatest asset and I would urge the voters to cast their ballots based on a realization that this drama needs to see an appropriate sunset.

Todd Harris

Mount Airy

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