Tyranny of the Minority: Our rezoning system isn’t broken, and we’ve supported recent improvements.
Applicants meet with neighbors, compromises are made, concerns are addressed and very few remain so controversial that they result in close votes at Council.
NC’s protest petition process allows a mere 5% of owners within 100’ to trigger a requirement for a 75% vote of the full council (not “those present”) to pass the rezoning. In Greensboro that’s 7, so essentially just 3 Council members have veto power over rezoning decisions. It is patently absurd that a mere 5% of neighbors can so severely curtail someone else’s property rights. You can change the US Constitution with less than that!
Impact on the Economy: The protest petition's purpose is to make it harder to rezone property. In this recession the last thing Greensboro needs is to signal that we don’t want development and job growth.
Council tries hard to balance business friendliness with neighborhood stability. The Protest Petition doesn’t. It’s just one more blow to an already reeling industry that has the very difficult job of building the local tax base.
Fairness: But even more troubling is that Protest Petitions are just plain un-democratic.
Proponents say it “levels” the playing field with a big stick against developers. What it really does is stand democracy on its head by giving one property owner – a rezoning opponent – an unfair advantage over another property owner – one who wants to rezone his or her property.
It assumes the arguments of one property owner are always compelling and deserve advantage, while the arguments of the other property owner are always suspect and should be hobbled.
Consider the reverse: If the owners of 5% of the land next to a rezoning sign a Support Petition then it takes 75% of City Council to REJECT it. Ridiculous? Of course. It is tyranny of the minority.
It is actually easier to change the US Constitution than to get a rezoning approved under a Protest Petition.
Everybody else has it?: Proponents argue that “everybody else does it.” But none of the 100 NC counties has it (legally).
IF we’re governing by the lemming model, then we have to get rid of anything else that is unique, like RUCO and the Citizen Initiative Petition (which some remember is why we got the Protest Petition exemption in 1971). More important, history is full of things that “everybody” used to do, until we grew to understand that it wasn’t fair and equal treatment for all.
Our zoning process isn’t broken: Developers meet with neighbors (or suffer the consequences), compromises are made, some applications are withdrawn, some are denied. It is a very rare case that remains so legitimately controversial that there is a close vote at Council.
TREBIC supports the current strict rules for public notice and supported Greensboro’s recent change to earlier and more widespread notification rules and website posting of rezoning information.
Most developers voluntarily meet with neighbors. Greensboro’s draft land development ordinance officially encourages this and so does TREBIC.
Rezonings already require a 2/3 vote to pass (6 of 9 votes), or else a second reading at the next meeting, giving opponents 2 to 3 extra weeks to lobby the issue further.
Greensboro’s Conditional Use Rezonings are legislative rather than quasi-judicial, to allow neighbors more effective involvement in the process, and TREBIC supports this.
Good Planning: Large master-planned projects have long been considered good planning because of they can do more environmental protection, serve more segments of society and meet more community needs. But neither Adams Farm nor Lake Jeanette, 2 Greensboro gems, would have been built with a Protest Petition. These days, smarter growth management plans like Greensboro’s promote infill, higher densities and mixed uses.
Our revamped Land Development Ordinance (set to be adopted in 2009) seeks to implement these concepts while minimizing impacts on existing neighborhoods. In the interim, Conditional zoning is used to mitigate site specific issues. But NIMBYism is a real barrier to good planning and protest petitions make it even harder.
Smarter growth management plans like Greensboro’s promote infill, higher densities and mixed uses. But neighborhood opposition is a very real barrier to these planning concepts and protest petitions make it even harder.
Why not?: Proponents say that since only 4 cases statewide in 2006 were affected by Protest Petitions, they have had no great impact on development in other cities and they must be OK. We say if they have had no great impact, what is the compelling reason to pass such an unfair ordinance in the first place?
We’ll never know how many projects died because of the threat of a petition. Or the extra cost of conditions that may not have been truly justifiable.
Protest petitions were “born” nearly a century ago because getting information was difficult, but now we’re in the “information age. Frankly, the protest petition is antiquated and should be repealed statewide.
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