Last updated: March 18. 2014 4:06PM - 838 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

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The fate of a proposed redevelopment commission in Mount Airy — which was loudly lambasted by citizens during a March 6 public hearing — could be decided Thursday night.

Two separate issues pertaining to the commission are on the agenda for a meeting of the city board of commissioners which begins at 7 p.m.

One will be the board’s consideration of a city resolution of intent to create the redevelopment commission. It would be a body of citizens appointed to determine if blighted areas exist in town and plans for addressing them, with the deciding factor being whether such redevelopment is in the public interest.

The second matter will involve the board’s consideration of an ordinance to create the commission, which would have broad powers in carrying out those plans — including the forcible taking of private property through eminent domain.

It is that possibility which most concerned speakers at the March 6 public hearing held during the last meeting of the city commissioners.

About six people, including former Commissioner Todd Harris, spoke during the hearing and all were against the commission’s formation, citing concerns about possible abuses of its power that would extend to both commercial and residential properties.

While the idea behind the local commission is ostensibly well-intended, to attract private investment to geographic locations targeted and encourage economic development, critics expressed a general fear of government during the hearing.

Some pointed out that the power of eminent domain has been abused by governmental units elsewhere, to allow projects such as strip malls and condominium construction.

“It’s been used for revenge and just for spite — it’s a dangerous weapon in the hands of government,” said Bruce Springthorpe, one who spoke at the hearing.

Redevelopment commissions have existed in Mount Airy in the past, including playing a role in neighborhood-revitalization projects in the Jones School and Highland park communities which were completed in the early 1980s.

The process also was used to develop the Dixie Street parking lot near Moody Funeral Services.

If city officials approve the commission — which would contain five to nine members — it would be charged with deciding if redevelopment in areas identified as blighted is necessary and in the public interest.

The redevelopment plans prepared by the commission must be approved by the city council.

Commission members then could exercise what are described as “extensive powers” to undertake redevelopment projects.

Those include acquisition of blighted parcels, possibly by power of eminent domain; the clearing of property by razing existing buildings; installation or construction of site improvements and preparation; entering into contracts for construction, demolition, moving of structures and repair work; and implementing programs of compulsory repair and rehabilitation using minimum housing codes.

The commission also could sell real property through competitive bidding procedures, and engage in programs of assistance and financing, including making loans. Once the redevelopment plan is approved, the commission may acquire property for purposes of implementing the plan.

Being designated as a blighted area under the state’s Urban Redevelopment Law governing such commissions would require a finding that growth there is being impaired by the presence of dilapidated or obsolete buildings, overcrowding or other unsafe conditions.

A target area also can be in danger of becoming blighted, under the law.

Housing Demolition

Also Thursday night, the city board of commissioners will decide whether to demolish property on Snowhill Drive.

That decision, involving two dilapidated mobile homes at 418 Snowhill Drive, originally was scheduled for December. At that time, the board considered approving demolition work at six sites scattered around the city containing deteriorated, vacant structures in violation of the city’s minimum housing codes.

After being told that the owner of the Snowhill Drive site was making progress on the removal of the problem structures, board members agreed in December to give him more time (90 days) to correct the problem on his own.

However, that has not occurred, based on a March 12 inspection of the site by staff members from the city planning department. “It appeared that little has been done to abate the violation,” a memo from Andy Goodall of that department states.

The estimated cost to the municipality for clearing the lot is $4,850, which can be recouped from the owner through legal channels.

City officials have authorized the demolition of five structures since September 2012 and more could be in store, based on recent discussions.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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