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Mount Airy government officials who support a new downtown master plan are unlikely to reconsider the measure, despite opposition from critics, including a protest march last Sunday.
“I see the process moving forward,” Mayor Ron Niland said Wednesday of the plan approved by city commissioners in a 3-2 vote on Sept. 1.
It updated a previous master plan completed in 2004 to include today’s business outlook and help guide the future of Mount Airy’s central business district and adjacent areas.
But it has encountered opposition from some downtown shopkeepers and leaders, as well as citizens in general, who fear it will result in a quaint downtown adopting the “cookie-cutter” look of others. locations.
They see the plan’s recommendations for new flexible spaces that can accommodate outdoor dining and additional features – as well as landscaping and other cosmetic changes, including tree planting – as undermining what is already a charming and prosperous downtown.
In addition to organizing Sunday’s “Save Our Main Street” march, opponents of the plan have been circulating petitions in hopes of getting the majority of city commissioners supporting the plan update to reconsider their action from the 1st september.
“I don’t see that,” Mayor Niland said Wednesday of that possibility.
Niland, a strong supporter of the plan, believes the measure has received sufficient study that does not require further review.
“We had a lot of public meetings,” he said of a nine-month process leading up to the plan’s adoption. “It was not done in a vacuum.”
Supporters of the plan in council also drew fire for voting on the measure the same evening a public hearing was held into the proposal. During this hearing, the majority of speakers said they were opposed to the plan as it concerned the changes being considered for North Main Street.
Discussing Wednesday’s vote and whether, in retrospect, it might have been a good decision to delay action until further study, the mayor said: ‘I don’t know, I think it’s hindsight – I don’t think there was any ill will on anyone’s part.
And in discussing the need to revisit the matter, “I think before anything is done, we’re going to revisit it,” Niland said of individual aspects of the plan.
“If and when we move forward, we will do so block by block,” he said. “The plan is not written in stone.”
Small “very noisy” group?
The mayor also indicated on Wednesday that he believed the mounting opposition obscured the fact that many downtown merchants broadly support the measure, echoing comments he and other officials made at a meeting of the council last Thursday.
“I walked Main Street and met at least 40 or 50 landlords,” he said.
Although some dislike parts of it, “in my conversations with owners, they’re generally happy with most of the plan.”
The opposition was also challenged last Thursday by other supporters of the plan, including Commissioner Steve Yokeley.
Yokeley’s presentation of carefully worded remarks included his belief that no one wants to see North Main become a palm-lined one-lane street – another West Palm Beach, Fla., Asheville “or any place outside of Mount Airy. “.
The longtime commissioner then went on to take on what he called “opponents”, “fearmongers”, “doomsday prophets”, “obstructionists” and “sabotagers”.
“I wish we could expect better from this small group of very vocal but still negative people in our town,” Yokeley continued.
He said some claim to represent the silent majority, but rely on assumptions, innuendo, false narratives, negative comments, misinformation, partial facts, misinformed opinions and even personal attacks to defend their cause.
“They can always be counted on to conjure up a poisonous witch brew that isn’t appropriate even on Halloween,” Yokeley charged.
He says critics should produce their own plan rather than attacking a positive one that focuses on the future. “Let’s listen to what you want to do instead of what you don’t want to do.”
Yokeley said he wants opponents of the plan to take the time to get the facts on all issues before developing uninformed opinions and spreading misinformation and “outright lies”.
“Think of what we could accomplish if we all worked together,” said Yokeley, who began his commentary by mentioning that “we all have to get along.”
Statements from fellow city council members also showed that they are firmly entrenched in their positions.
Commissioner Marie Wood said she could not understand why a good plan is “blown through the roof”, as evidenced by the criticisms made.
Wood further mentioned that she had studied all aspects included in the 78-page document from the beginning “and I saw no reason to vote against” on September 1.
She agreed with Yokeley in loving Mount Airy and not wanting to diminish its charm, much of which is due to its people.
“The citizens of Mount Airy make our city and they can break it too,” Wood said.
Commissioner Joe Zalescik spoke along the same lines.
“Everyone has the right to demonstrate, everyone has the right to demonstrate, but you have to look at the facts and not invent,” observed Zalescik. “Don’t create lies about what we’re doing here.”
Zalescik said he has also studied the plan from the start and believes it will help improve mobility and walkability in the city center in particular.
Council members were prompted to offer such comments in reaction to citizens who addressed the plan in a public forum at last Thursday’s meeting, including four who criticized it and two who supported it. .
Shirley Brinkley, a former Mount Airy commissioner, said while on the podium that the overwhelmingly unsupportive remarks from citizens at the September 1 hearing seemed to make no difference among the trio of council members voting in favor.
“I believe you had made up your mind,” Brinkley said.
Karen Armstrong also reiterated her earlier concerns that she didn’t want to see the small American town embodied by North Main Street damaged.
“People don’t really want the way Main Street looks to change,” Armstrong said, adding that citizens shouldn’t “stand idly by.”
John Pritchard, another forum speaker, made a simple plea to city officials: “Build on what works and don’t waste it,” he said.
“Just work on the little things and keep the story alive,” urged Devon Hays, who also spoke.
Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison of Mount Airy Downtown Inc. offered her support for the plan during the forum and sought to allay fears.
“I was born and raised here – this is my hometown – I’m not trying to erase what we love about it,” she said.
Additionally, John Phillips, owner of a business on North South Street, spoke positively of the downtown plan and thanked city officials for approving the measure.
“When something happens like that, there are always disagreements, people on different sides,” Phillips acknowledged. “It’s a myth to say ‘let’s keep it the same’ – change is inevitable.”
The local businessman believes the plan could serve to increase revenue and reduce property taxes.
Commissioner Jon Cawley, who had voted against the measure on September 1 along with the board’s Tom Koch, offered his views on that outcome – and its timeline.
“It was obvious to me the night we had the discussion that the public wasn’t ready for this,” Cawley said of the plan, which the commissioners had the power to act on — or not.
Holding the vote then “was a bad decision on our part”, he claimed.