Monday, June 9, 2008

Greensboro NCOD in Action

Westridge revels in conservation plan

Westridge revels in conservation plan
The neighborhood’s plan to preserve its rural appeal unanimously passes the City Council.
Jun 9, 2008 | Greensboro News Record
By Emily Stephenson
Staff Writer

Good news: Democracy is alive in Greensboro.

At least, some residents of Westridge Neighborhood say their recent, successful attempt to restrict future neighborhood development is proof that the democratic process works.

The Greensboro City Council unanimously voted last week to support the Westridge Neighborhood Conservation Overlay, a plan that some residents say will preserve the neighborhood's countryside appeal.

"One of the things about Greensboro is there's always been a charge that developers determine what happens with developments," said Rob Luisana of 1208 Westridge Road, who organized the neighborhood's effort to direct construction. "It was democracy at work."

Westridge's overlay — the city's first such plan, possible because of a 2007 city ordinance — requires larger setbacks from the street and neighboring homes than are mandated by city rules.

The plan also ensures tree protection by requiring that developers preserve at least 60 percent of existing trees when houses are built or expanded.

"Essentially it's a tool that helps residents recognize and preserve distinctive elements in their neighborhoods," said Mary Sertell, an urban designer with the city's planning department.

Sertell helped guide the Westridge residents through the conservation overlay process, which began last spring.

The process involved several months of neighborhood hearings, an application and approval from property owners making up more than 51 percent of the land area.

Sertell said Lindley Park Neighborhood soon will begin working on an overlay.

Although Westridge is the first Greensboro neighborhood to create a conservation overlay, it is not the first to try to control growth.

In February 2007, the Kirkwood neighborhood convinced the planning department to change nearby zoning rules to keep out a Walgreens.

And the Westridge Neighborhood Association last year lobbied the city to pre vent rezoning that would allow townhouses in the area.

Beverly Willingham, who has lived at 1201 Westridge Road since 1965, said she moved to the neighborhood because the trees made her feel as if she lived in the countryside, though her home is less than 3 miles from Friendly Center.

She said most Westridge residents want to preserve the neighborhood character, especially in the face of new development in the area, so they are pleased with the results of the yearlong process.

"Developers tend to go in and clearcut because it's simple," Willingham said, joking that she has nicknamed nearby subdivision Westridge Forest "Westridge Deforest" because of its cut trees.

Fred Robertson, whose mailing address is 1112 Westminster Road but who helped create the neighborhood's overlay plan, said Westridge has Greensboro's first ordinance to protect trees from residential construction.

"That is something that we hope the City Council will endorse," he said. " There's a lot of attention and press about global warming. Not enough attention is put on the clearcutting of trees."

Not all Westridge property owners like the plan — some argue that it allows too many exceptions, others think restrictions might hinder current owners from making expansions to their homes — but more than 90 percent signed the plan's final draft.

The City Council approved the plan with an 8-0 vote at Tuesday's meeting. Councilman Zach Matheny was absent.

"Sometimes you think, 'Is it worth going through all this?'" Luisana said. "It made me feel good about the City Council."

Contact Emily Stephenson at 373-7080 or

Note to Raleigh deciders: Greensboro went the majority of the land area route:
The process involved several months of neighborhood hearings, an application and approval from property owners making up more than 51 percent of the land area.

This is a current concern in the Planning Commission: what constitutes a vote and how many is a majority.

While the land area formula is strikingly similar to the land baron system, it would be a good idea to look deeper into the statute in Greensboro to see how those votes took place.

Fallonia leans toward one person one vote, and a majority is 51%. That is the American way. In land use, deciding what is a property owner is getting harder and harder. For example, up on Anderson Drive, one man is behind 2 re-developments, but he has different business names, and multiple partnerships. So he would get two votes, 6 votes, 50 votes? And a single property owner would get 1 and their neighbors with joint ownership get 2? It is a tricky question and may require constitutional scholars to figure it out.

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