Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It Helps to Have Friends in High Places

I have some friends who live in Ardmore Park, a working-class neighborhood near the Greensboro Coliseum. They've been struggling for years to close a nightclub near their homes because of persistent problems with noise, fights, trash, and urinating in public.

But to no avail. Police officers won't write noise violation citations against the club, because they believe they'll be thrown out of court. They're probably right about that; the city's current noise ordinance is quite impotent.

And city zoning staff can't close the establishment down as an illegal club because the owners serve a little food late into the evening, thus making it a "restaurant."

So I'm wondering how my Ardmore Park friends are feeling about Matt Williams' story in today's News & Record, wherein we read that a very similar establishment called "Cheap Seats," causing very similar problems in a northwest Greensboro neighborhood, was speedily shut down last night by the city's Board of Adjustment.

Neighbors of Cheap Seats, like their counterparts in Ardmore Park, had been experiencing excessive noise, fights (even a shooting), trash, parking problems, and public urination.

But the Starmount Company, a profitable and influential local real estate firm, owns the property on which Cheap Seats operates, and went to bat for the neighbors before the Board of Adjustment. Starmount is now threatening to revoke Cheap Seats' lease.

Sandra Anderson, who is a member of the Board of Adjustment, who is also an at-large candidate for Greensboro's city council, and who is in need of votes in northwest Greensboro where Cheap Seats is located, because her nearest opponent, Florence Gatten, is polling strongly in that area, took the opportunity to chastise the owners of Cheap Seats:

"If they were serious about being an establishment, it seems they would work with their neighbors," she said.

It was a fortunate confluence of interests that helped out the neighborhood around Cheap Seats: it is positioned in a relatively affluent quadrant of the city, a powerful real estate firm took up its cause, and it just so happens that ruling in favor of the neighbors brightens the political prospects of a local politician.

No such confluence exists, however, for the residents of Ardmore Park.

I guess they'll just have to get used to people peeing in their yards.


Rob Ainbinder said...

Go get them Dave.

Could Sandra Anderson have a "connection" at Starmount, too?

Also, I wonder if the Ardmore Park residents have contacted the property owner.

jw said...

The issues between "have," and "have not," neighborhoods and the way they have voice in the community is clear. Subtle, sometimes, but generally pretty clear. The more expensive the house, the louder your voice seems, although there would be some folks who would argue that it doesn't happen that way.

This proves AGAIN that Greensboro does not have an effective system for citizen advocacy. It needs it.

Sandy Carmany said...

As city council representative for the Ardmore Park area, I had the same reaction to this morning's news report. I have been working with the neighborhood, the police, city legal department, zoning enforcement and the owner of the establishment for the past 2-3 years to resolve this problem. We have met countless times over the years, and while the problem has improved drastically over the starting point, it is still a significant problem. I too am asking the question, what is the difference between the two situations? I'm awaiting staff's response at this point.

Sandy Carmany said...

Here's a clarifying response from city staff - I'd like to apply the same principles to Ardmore Park's situation.

"Sandy, the News article was flat out wrong. The BOA did not “shut down” Cheap Seats yesterday. They did uphold our Notice of Violation that Cheap Seats was operating a bar/nightclub at that location. Cheap Seats can continue to operate as a restaurant as long as they function as a restaurant, i.e. not exceed the rated capacity of the building, and not move tables and chairs out to create standing room only situations.

Bill Ruska, AICP
Zoning Administrator"

Anonymous said...

I agree that there are problems getting equal representation if you're a "have-not" district. However, there are also other remedies. The Ardmore constiuents should seek a pro bono attorney (and there are several) to handle this case for them. perhaps they have not yet made the case that their thorn isn't a restaurant, if that's its license. A community-minded attorney could help. So could some more press coverage (sort of a public-private partnership, no?) for the good of Greensboro.

jw said...

We still need someone in place to help people navigate the system. People go to their mailboxes and get a zoning notice and have no clue what it means. Then, the only people they have to go for information are the people who will ultimately be recommending for or against the issue. I have NO quarrel with staff, they are wonderful, but we need an independent person who can, if not advocate, at least advise people. Can somebody tell me if the Neighborhood Congress can fill this role?

David Wharton said...

At this point the Congress does not have the resources to do that in a formal way.

However, members of the GNC are informally advising Ardmore Park how to proceed, and I think that's a tribute to what can be accomplished just by the connections that the Congress promotes.

Diane Grey Davis said...

Hey David,
At the LWV candidate forum last night I made a public statement that did not appear in the N&R account of the event.
I said that I attend many many meetings of the city council, city council briefing sessions, meetings of the board of adjustment, planning department meetings and zoning commission meetings.
I told the group that it seems to me that citizens have very little influence in the decision-making process. It seems to me that many times decisions of these groups are based on who you are and how your lawyer spins the information.
This should not be the case!

On another related subject. Do we need a real estate developer on the city council. I think NOT.


Anonymous said...

We get it right some of the time and at other times we get it wrong. I didn't have all the info on what Ardmore had been through regarding their thorny "club" and its related nightmares. Apologies to all I might have offended with my lack of current insight and kudos to Deborah Hero for the classy way she told me so.

Anonymous said...

I will tell you this, it was a club at night. I should know, I went there to party man times. My friends threw parties there and it was great.

It was the like new hot spot!

I understand you all want your homes and stuff to be respected but where can the crowd of young people party?

David Wharton said...

Hmmm. That's a tough one.

How about at a place that's zoned as a club, not close to people's houses?

Anonymous said...

I worked at Cheap Seats for a long time. When the city shut them down, I lost my sole income overnight without any notice. Now we (all emoloyees) have no choice but to go through the NC Labor Board so that we can get our payroll checks to pay our bills.
Did the people in the neighborhood think about the employees that worked there??????? Did they think about the people who were going to loose their jobs without any notice????
I have taken other payroll checks that I have received to different banks in the area, but because of all the hype going around no one will cash them.
I don't understand why Cheap Seats didn't get a warning of this violation. (They didn't that I know of.) Also why couldn't they be required to have hired security officer on the premises during late night business hours? I know at restaurants where they do Karoake managers hires off duty officers to monitor the premises, not to mention that they move tables around!!
Disgusted and jobless