August 10, 2017

Winston-Salem City Council Meeting, August 7, 2017: Notes And Commentary

Monday’s meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council wasn’t too eventful. After taking the month of July off the city council eased back into session with a relatively light agenda. A few zoning requests were heard, several appointments/reappointments were made to various city government committees, but no public comments were heard.

Waughtown Cemetery received approval to rezone some property it had recently purchased adjacent to its existing property. The Gallery Lofts apartments received approval from the council to expand downtown without any opposition or much debate. Apparently, the Gallery Lofts dialogued with Goler CDC and other downtown stakeholders to overcome the objections that they initially had concerning parking and congestion.

You have to give it to Winston’s business class, under Mayor/Winston-Salem Alliance President, Allen Joines they work together to find consensus. The City’s Moravian forefathers would be proud.

The only contested issue at Monday’s Winston-Salem City Council meeting was a developer’s request to open a new auto-repair shop on the southwest corner of Clemmonsville Road and Konnoak Drive. Neighbors, led by Carolyn Highsmith turned out in force to oppose another auto repair shop opening in their neighborhood. Auto-repair shops-even well-maintained ones are a little dirty and unsightly. They’re a reflection of our nation’s addiction to fossil fuels.

The developer argued that another auto-repair shop wouldn’t affect the Konnoak Hills neighborhood. They argued that the property in question would remain vacant, perhaps in perpetuity if their zoning request was denied.

But after thoroughly debating the matter, the Councilmembers voted unanimously to deny the developer’s zoning request. In the end it was impossible for the city council to ignore all the citizens of Konnoak Hills who came to City Hall to oppose the zoning request.

The victory of the Konnoak Hills community over development that wasn’t in the community’s best interest shows what communities can do when they unite to fight development. But not all communities can successfully fight off unwanted development.

Winston is a racially and economically stratified city. Winston-Salem is divided by more than just a hyphen. The Winston-Salem Urban League’s recent report, The State of Black Winston-Salem is the latest in a series of studies to demonstrate that poverty is Winston’s greatest (and largely unaddressed) problem.

The debate over whether to allow a new auto-repair shop to open on Clemmonsville Road turned in to a brief conversation about the problem of contaminated properties in the city. Councilmember Clark pointed out that there are many contaminated properties in the city and often there is little that can be done to clean them up. Clark and Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke both mentioned Hanes/Lowrance and the neighborhood around the former school. The kids at Hanes/Lowrance were relocated. The chemical plant is closing. But what is to be done for the folks whose live in homes around the former Hanes/Lowrance Middle School?

Councilmembers at Monday’s City Council meeting, also briefly discussed double-standards in the city’s zoning ordinances. The city’s zoning ordinances favor affluent white parts of Winston, such as the Innovation Quarter with protections from undesirable businesses.  Less affluent parts of the city have fewer protections from developers. While poor, majority-minority communities in East Winston are often vulnerable to undesirable development.

If the councilmembers had continued their conversation on the inequities of Winston’s zoning statutes they would have likely stumbled onto the subject of institutional racism. The legacy of Jim Crow can be seen throughout East Winston.

Healthy residential communities, a growing business sector, and adequate roads are important to any city. Historically Winston has intentionally built its roads through majority-minority East Winston. Dirty factories have also been located in or near East Winston, far away from affluent white neighborhoods. Industrial businesses, such as the toxic chemical plant on Indiana Avenue would have never been allowed to open in the West End or in Buena Vista.

Councilmember Adams stated that the legacy of allowing industrial facilities in the Urban Core decades ago continues to hamper the Urban Core today. It’s a major roadblock to East Winston’s redevelopment. But the awareness of the institutional racism that East Winston has suffered for so long should motivate the city council to rededicate themselves to putting East Winston’s redevelopment (not gentrification) at the top of the city’s list of priorities, high above the needs of Downtown Winston.

 

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