This week, Up & Coming Weekly Publisher Bill Bowman lends his regular space to columnist Jason Brady. Brady shares his thoughts about and possible solutions for an issue that has recently affected many Cumberland County residents – an issue that will present itself again and again in the coming years.
Every time I see the horse lazily grazing at the corner of Stoney Point and Dundle roads, it makes me think we need to change the makeup of the Fayetteville City Council.
Soon that horse will be gone, and some commercial monstrosity will replace one of the last bucolic scenes in that neighborhood.
To be fair, I must mention that across the road is the Four Way, a mom and pop grocery store and gas station built in 1948. It dispenses gas, drinks, lottery tickets and food. But it fits in.
Miller’s Too restaurant is attached to the vinyl-covered cinderblock building. It’s a country-style eatery that serves breakfast and lunch, the type that may not be healthy but tastes darn good. On Thursday nights, there are blue plate specials, and the regulars who’ve eaten there for years fill up the seven booths and three tables and patiently wait for their fried pork chops, beef tips over rice or country-fried chicken steak with white gravy.
The landowners across the street, who I’m sure aren’t making money out of a corner lot with a horse grazing on it, sought commercial rezoning. They were smart, very smart. They hired a politically savvy lawyer who made the right argument. Plus they had the planning board and city bureaucrats on their side. They figured since the new I-295 bypass was going to dump more traffic onto the area, why not dump some more.
The newly elected council in mid- January voted to rezone the 8.6 acres on the corner from residential to commercial conditional. It was a controversial issue that came up this past summer, but council members hoped the landowners and opponents could come up with a compromise. If not, they would revisit the issue – after the election.
The 200-plus people who signed a petition wanting to keep the area residential – or, in downtown vernacular, “in keeping with the fabric of the community” – didn’t have a chance.
I recently ran into a council member who asked me how things were going in western Fayetteville. I suggested things would be better if council hadn’t commercialized my neighborhood. He then brought up the property rights argument. People have a right to use their property for its best use. What if it were my property, he asked. My thoughts are that I wouldn’t screw over my neighbors.
He did have a point. People should have control over their property and thus their financial destiny.
But the property rights argument confuses me. Why do people have property rights that can negatively affect their neighbors but don’t have property rights when it comes to cutting down trees in their own yards, or annexation or utility easements?
I’m wondering where my neighbors’ property rights are when it comes to the highway department. My friend Art lost half his front yard, Kenny is losing about 4 1/2 acres of his business, and another friend lost her home. But that’s government pointing to other units of government. To me, government is government.
Here’s why I think city residents are under- represented. Right now, nine council members, each elected in their separate districts, don’t have to be accountable to all voters. Only the mayor is elected by the entire city. So, voters in any specific district can only hold their council member, and possibly the mayor, accountable for any unpopular council action. The remaining eight can dump on any district without worry of voter backlash.
Here’s an idea. Let’s go back a few years and reorganize city council like it used to be: six districts with three at-large members. It seems to work for the county commissioners.
Do the math. That means a council member from a district and three at-large members may be more responsive to voters in a given geographical area of the city. Throw in the mayor’s vote, and people not wanting to have their neighborhood commercialized could have a fighting chance.
I’m guessing we’d have to get out from under the federal government’s 1963 Voters Rights Act, which was created to ensure minority representation in local elections, to include Fayetteville.
Right now, the ham-fisted Department of Justice tells us how we can organize the city’s voting districts. But this is 2018, and depending on which report you read, African-Americans are no longer a minority in Fayetteville. Besides, six of the 10 members of city council are African- Americans. I’m thinking African-Americans will no longer have problems getting elected in Fayetteville.
Maybe it’s time we start making council a tad more responsive to all voters.