sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Paper route day.

I realize the scenic corridor ordinance has been settled, but here's my version of the Nov. 18 county's commissioners' meeting, as it appears in today's Greater Greensboro Observer:

Two more meetings. That’s all Bob Landreth, chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, has left before he leaves office. After the Nov. 18 meeting, he probably can’t wait.

Nobody said it would be easy passing a scenic corridor ordinance that allows billboards, even with restrictions. But most expected the majority of protest to come from the public at large, not the county commissioners themselves. Once again, Landreth was in the middle of it all.

The issue had been building for some time, from the Guilford Planning Board’s controversial late-night vote to a plethora of newspaper editorials bemoaning the “clutter” billboards create to campaign signs around town proclaiming “Not one billboard, not two, not any.”

But in the end, the billboard industry made the strongest showing and the issue should have been a slam dunk in favor of the ordinance. It was just a matter of the commissioners hashing out the issue amongst themselves.

Planning director Mark Kirstner presented the commission with three options: Pass the ordinance as written; pass the ordinance with amendments (which, in fairness, could have gotten somewhat complicated) or vote down the ordinance.

Former planning board chairman Mary Skenes also made a presentation, saying the ordinance was the best compromise for all landowners along the Urban Loop, many of them farmers who might wish to rezone their land in the future.

Another factor the planning board had to deal with was pressure from the City of Greensboro to adopt its ordinance, which bans billboards altogether.

“This ordinance was not arrived at willy-nilly,” Skenes said. “We heard loud and clear from Guilford County farmers. The city ordinance was much too restrictive and practical for application in the county.”

Basically, the ordinance allowed billboards but restricted them to land zoned highway business, light industrial and heavy industrial. In the future, landowners who successfully had their land rezoned to those designations would be able to erect billboards, which troubled some commissioners.

“The scenic corridor will have billboards all up and down it. Is that correct, Mr. Kirstner?” commissioner Linda Shaw asked.

“The property would have to be rezoned,” Kirstner said.

Commissioner Billy Yow maintained that the placement of billboards was primarily a zoning issue.

“If this is a zoning matter, whether there’s a scenic corridor or not, then why are we even having this discussion?” Yow asked.

During the public hearing portion, only three speakers spoke out in opposition to the ordinance. When it came time to vote, Landreth asked for a positive motion, meaning commissioners would vote yes or no to adopt the amendment. But Yow and fellow commissioner Steve Arnold insisted on putting forth a motion in the negative state, setting off a confusing round of back-and-forth on procedure.

“Mr. Chairman, our rules do not state that our motions must be made in a positive state,” Arnold said. He then made a motion to overrule Landreth’s decision and make the motion in a negative state.

For at least the next hour, confusion reigned as motions and subsequent counter motions were made and voted on. Commissioner Carolyn Coleman then made an attempt to amend the ordinance, but it was clear she was confused about how she would do so.

Landreth then called a five-minute recess to regain control of the meeting. Afterwards, Coleman stated her proposed amendment: To allow billboards only on land currently zoned industrial or highway business. Such an amendment would have been overly restrictive, considering the majority of county land along the urban loop is zoned agricultural.

“That sounds like a ban for everyone else,” said commissioner Bruce Davis.

After much discussion and further delay, Coleman’s motion failed by a 6-4 vote.

Commissioner Mike Barber, who earlier confessed to having a “melancholy moment” over his pending departure from the board, proposed adopting the ordinance to take effect Dec. 1.

Arnold argued that motion had already failed. Say what you will about Arnold, one can’t help but respect his political game. While Yow used the big-picture land-rights argument, Arnold was the parliamentarian, keeping track of every motion, using every angle he could to see that the ordinance died one way or another.

“Mrs. Shaw’s motion is in no way a substitute motion to my motion,” he said at one point.

Earlier, he argued that fellow commissioner Skip Alston, a lobbyist for the billboard industry, could not recuse himself from the debate and voting. If anything, Arnold said, Alston was required by law to vote on the matter.

At other times during the debate he moved to go into closed session and to adjourn pending remaining items on the agenda except new business.

Though he remained calm, it was clear Landreth, perhaps seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, had enough.

“A motion to adjourn is a motion to adjourn, period,” he said. “Now would you please cast your vote on that motion or be quiet?”

The motion passed by 6-4 vote, with Yow, Arnold, Jeff Thigpen and Mary Rakestraw voting against it.

“Welcome to the county with no land rights,” Yow said. “Pay your taxes and do what we tell you. Right Mr. Chairman?”

“Whatever you say, Mr. Yow,” Landreth replied, without looking up. “I’ve got two more meetings to go, and I thank you very much.”


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