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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Developers, Perkins and Our Shared Environment

I moved to Greensboro in 1989 to become Associate Pastor of Christ Community Church. At the time Christ Community met in a building at the corner of Lake Brandt Road and Lawndale Drive. Christ Community was a lively and growing community of Christians with a charismatic pastor with unusual gifts of relating well to ordinary folks.

During my time at Christ Community the membership and attendance grew consistently. There were two identical worship services and both were full. There was not adequate space for educational ministries. So a committee was looking hard at either expanding the facility or perhaps building elsewhere.

Around that same period of time – from about 1989 to 1992 – the city and state were formulating guidelines for protection of the local watersheds from which we get our drinking
water. If my memory serves me correctly there was much debate with pressure coming from developers to minimize the watershed regulations. Eventually a compromise set of rules was
established. These rules involved progressive tiers of protection for land at certain distances from the waterfront.

At the same time, and much to my own personal consternation, Lake Jeanette was excluded from such regulations because the lake itself and the land around the lake were privately
owned. As everyone knows Lake Jeanette feeds into Lake Townsend from which we get much of our water. The logic of excluding Lake Jeanette from the same watershed restrictions
as the other lakes which provided our drinking water baffled me. The difference had “developer” written all over it.

Christ Community’s property was included in the Lake Brandt watershed. It was in the farthest out “tier” but the regulations impacted what Christ Community could do with its property. Only a certain percentage of the average could be covered by building or asphalt for example. All this hindered greatly the prospect of expanding on the existing property.

I was of the opinion at the time that the Christ Community sanctuary had a unique warmth and charm that fit the personality both of the congregation and the pastor. I definitely wanted to see the expansion take place on site, and even proposed various ways of doing that within the boundaries of the restrictions. But it was going to be awkward and more expensive due to the regulations (which I supported).

Robbie Perkins was a member of Christ Community then, and was involved in the building matter in some way. I think he was a deacon but I am not sure. I do however remember clearly
a conversation we had about the watershed restrictions. We were sitting at the end of a table after a meeting. The meeting had had to do in part with the whole facility/watershed issue. So I was talking with Robbie about this. I do not consider that conversation privileged as pastor to parishioner conversations are. Nor was it part of any official meeting. It was small talk after a meeting with others around.

Despite my desire to see Christ Community stay in its facility and find a way to expand on that property, I was also an avid proponent of the watershed regulations. There was movement by some to appeal to the city or state for an exemption of some kind. I was not for that. I wanted to see us stay in that facility but not if it meant seeking exemption from the rules. To me churches of all places should be cooperative with such regulations and be good citizens in so doing.

I could be wrong but I think that the property got moved to the Lake Jeanette watershed since it was into Lake Jeanette that runoff from the property eventually flowed.

So I was talking to Robbie and he said to me something pretty close to “There is no proof that water runoff into a lake is harmful.”

I remember being quite taken back. My first thought was “I don’t think he really said that.” My second was “This guy went to Duke?” And the third was, “This sounds like a tobacco executive talking.” I knew at that point that further conversation was pointless.

It was not that much longer after that, as I remember, that Mr. Perkins made the local news for his opposition to tree ordinances in residential neighborhoods. He said they would raise the cost of the property and house and diminish demand and in effect depress the housing market. I personally have never met anyone that said they preferred that their new property have no trees, or that they wouldn’t be willing to pay a little more to keep the trees. And tree cover has such an overwhelming benefit to everyone it seemed only a developer could be against a reasonable tree ordinance.

My personal experience of conversations, along with the subsequent issue of the tree ordinance, combined with the more recent obvious conflict of interest regarding the incentives package has led me to think that most developers like Mr. Perkins, though otherwise fine people in every respect, bring a deeply ingrained set of values into these discussions that are formed by their work as developers. In other words, they see the world through a developer’s lens.

I think it is just a very bad idea that developers have such influence upon our local governments. But they do.

Government has certain key responsibilities. One is to provide protection to its citizens against aggression from outside and crime within. A second role is to help provide an infrastructure that allows its citizens the ability to work and move around in an equitable and effective manner. A third is to provide and promote the general health and safety of its citizens. The provision of a clean and safe water supply would be one of its primary obligations.

I think our watershed restrictions are way too lax. Not only that, but downriver from Lake Townsend the restrictions diminish greatly. We seem to forget that what we put into our water up here impacts everyone downstream, all the way to Lake Jordan and to the Cape Fear River. I think we owe it to our neighbors downstream to be watchful of the quality of the water we send their way.

How we get developers who serve on our town and county councils to support reasoned planning, ordinances which protect the health and safety of our citizens and the beauty of our shared environment is a question I wonder about all the time.

3 comments:

triadwatch said...

Joel, in reading this post it seems like a lot of people are waking up to the fact that the TREBIC CARTEL which is the local coalition of developers, lawyers and the like are putting blinders on to a lot of the issues . If you haven't read last weeks article by Jordan Green in Yes Weekly please read here is the link,

http://www.yesweekly.com/article-619-developers-more-assertive-on-panel-to-rewrite-ordinance.html

There is also a issue that the developers are putting their blinding goggles on in the fact that every city in this state abides by Protest Petitions in the zoning process but back 37 years ago the TREBIC CARTEL of the 70's exempted themselves from this North Carolina Law. Here is the link to information on this issue click here,

http://protestpetitiongreensboro.blogspot.com/

Our coalition is trying to get a bill passed to make Grensboro comply with this North Carolina General Statute in the long session of 2009. PLease write your local city council members in Greensboro to let them know that it is a total injustice to the citizens of Greensboro that they don't have this right.

Great post, and I hope that things can change where the local politicians can pay a price for slamming these boards and commissions with the TREBIC CARTEL, enough is enough.

Brenda Bowers said...

I have noticed that Robbie Perkins seems to make a habit of stopping conversations cold. Usually like you the listeners are simply dumbfounded by the stupidity of the comment and therefore left speechless. So tell me, how in the world did this sleaze bag get elected by so many people? BB

Joel said...

Brenda,

I have not talked to Robbie Perkins in years, mostly because we travel in different circles (you think?). When I did know him he was only ever nice to me, as was his wife. in fact, I liked the Perkins family very much. Robbie always carried himself in a gentlemanly demeanor. I think he is a nice person and a good and decent man. I would suppose that that in itself has something to do with his electability. I wrote what I did because I have gotten more and more disenchanted with the power which the "developer" class yields in local decisions. There does seem to be a quintessential good old boy network ("boy" being used loosely of course) going here. When otherwise good and decent men and women are drawn into making back door deals and decisions which impact the public good, who work the system and take advantage of poorly written laws that give them undue power, who use their wealth to "help" like minded folk get elected, and who use their influence on city and county councils to advance their industry, then no matter how good their motives may be what you have is an incipient corruption. I think it has well beyond incipient. But I would not myself call Mr. Perkins a sleaze ball. I don't think that way about him.