A man who wants to develop a flea market on U.S. 52 defended those plans at a public hearing Thursday night which also produced opposition by a neighboring property owner worried about potential littering problems.
“It’s not going to be ‘Sanford and Son’ across the road,” Grayson Vaughn said during the hearing before the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, specifically addressing appearance concerns raised by Bill Smith.
Smith owns the site of a former Neighbors convenience store on the opposite side of U.S. 52 (South Andy Griffith Parkway) from where Vaughn wants to establish the flea market. In order to do so, the city must rezone his property from B-4 (Highway Business) to conditional-use M-1 (Industrial).
As he headed to a podium in the commissioners meeting room to speak during Thursday night’s hearing, Smith passed out photographs to board members showing trashy conditions at another nearby flea market.
“I’m afraid if we get the flea market in,” said Smith, who has been leasing the Neighbors site for 45 years, it will “hurt the value of my property.”
“I’d like for you to consider the pros and cons of it,” he urged the commissioners.
Vaughn responded with comments of his own during the hearing, defending his plans to establish the flea market on land he formerly leased to a mobile-home sales business for 14 years until it closed abruptly. That left him scrambling for another way to reap revenue from the property, which led to plans for the flea market that would contain 100 display tables.
In explaining his reasoning, the landowner said he is essentially trying to “survive.”
“I’ve got to pay my mortgage,” Vaughn said. “Right now, all I’m trying to do is pay my mortgage and not lose my land.”
The rezoning is sought because flea markets are not permitted in Highway Business zones, but can exist in areas zoned for industrial use.
“I could do 180 things with that property right now,” Vaughn said of the long list of allowable uses under the Highway Business classification. But he is bypassing those commercial possibilities in favor of the flea market.
Emily Hines, a city planner, explained Thursday night that the Mount Airy Planning Board voted to recommend the rezoning at a meeting last month. But it set a condition that allows only a certain portion of the 16-acre tract Vaughn owns to be used for the flea market. The land in question borders Emmanuel Church Trail.
“This is basically the first 520 feet measured back from the Andy Griffith Parkway,” Hines said, which is the section that has been used for commercial purposes in the past. Undeveloped portions to the rear of that property would continue to serve as a buffer between the proposed flea market and neighbors of Vaughn’s who live on the east side of U.S. 52.
Though the site is outside the city limits, it is within the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) zone, a one-mile area surrounding Mount Airy where property is subject to municipal zoning regulations.
In pledging that the flea market site wouldn’t be a “Sanford and Son” situation, Vaughn said, “I’m not going to have a trash pile there — it’s going to be nice.”
Mike Carter, who identified himself as a neighbor of Vaughn’s, also spoke in favor of the flea market at the public hearing. “I know for a fact Grayson is a man of his word,” Carter said.
He is now helping Vaughn clean up debris left from the mobile home business, Carter said, echoing earlier comments from the owner that “I’m going to clean it up even more than it is now.”
Carter and Vaughn said the flea market would help bring money into Mount Airy from customers and exhibitors.
“I’ll be providing jobs,” Vaughn told the hearing audience, pointing to the value of flea markets in supplying extra income to participants in tough economic times. “People need to sell stuff to pay their power bills.”
The commissioners did not vote on the rezoning request Thursday night, with action to be taken at a future meeting in keeping with board policy. But one councilman did voice support for the flea market development.
“It will bring jobs to the city,” Commissioner Dean Brown said, especially part-time employment on weekends when the market would be in full swing.
Also Thursday night, the Mount Airy commissioners gave unanimous approval to a city ordinance amendment that will permit businesses to hold sidewalk sales. Such events were not permitted under existing regulations, but were sought by the Downtown Business Association as a way to boost sales.
Under the ordinance, merchants will be allowed to hold sidewalk sales only four times per year, after a permit is granted by the police chief.
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley embraced the concept by saying she loves to see sidewalk sales in other places she visits. “I think this is a good idea for everybody,” Brinkley added in reference to both consumers and businesses that will benefit from the extra marketing leeway.
Other support was offered by Commissioner Brown, who grew up in a merchant family with a shop downtown.
“Anytime we can help a merchant stay in business and sell their inventory, we should do it,” he said.
Mayor Deborah Cochran relayed a concern from a disabled downtown businessman about ensuring that sidewalks were not blocked to conveyances such as motorized wheelchairs.
Police Chief Dale Watson, who was instrumental in developing the ordinance amendment, cited a provision stating that any merchandise, fixtures or devices associated with a sidewalk sale may not “impede, endanger or interfere” with pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
Specific distances were not included, but for a reason, Watson said.
“All our sidewalks are not uniform,” he explained of the varying space situations involved.
The board also authorized, in a 5-0 vote, the trade of a vehicle in the police department which has developed a mold and mildew smell.
“We tried everything we could to resolve the problem,” the police chief said Thursday night of the 2009 Toyota Prius. It and another Prius were the first hybrid vehicles acquired for city government use three years ago.
A collision with a moped, a manufacturing defect — or both — are possible causes for water accumulating in the rear compartment of the car and leading to the mold-mildew situation that quickly spread. The car which was used as a support vehicle in the detective division ultimately had to be parked.
After other steps to alleviate the odor failed, the only other option was to replace its entire interior, which was not cost-effective.
Watson said this led to plans for the trade. “We did shop around to get the best deal.”
An opportunity subsequently arose to exchange the Prius for a Ford Edge of roughly the same value. The Prius is worth $21,926 and the Edge, $21,975. Counting administrative expenses, the net cost of the transaction to the city is $400, according to the police chief.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.