Mount Airy government officials who support a new downtown master plan are not expected to reconsider the measure, despite opposition from critics including a protest march last Sunday.
“I see the process moving forward,” Mayor Ron Neiland said Wednesday of the plan approved by city commissioners in a 3-2 vote on Sept.
It updated a previous master plan implemented in 2004 to include today’s business outlook and help guide the future of Mount Airy’s CBD and adjacent areas.
But it was met with opposition from some downtown merchants and leaders, along with citizens in general, who feared that it would lead to an attractive downtown adopting the “cookie-cutting” look of other places.
They see the plan’s recommendations for new flexible spaces that accommodate outdoor dining and additional elements—along with landscaping and other cosmetic changes, including tree planting—undermining what is already a charming and thriving downtown.
In addition to organizing Sunday’s “Save Our Main Street” rally, opponents of the plan circulated petitions in hopes of getting the majority of city commissioners who support updating the plan to reconsider the Sept.
“I don’t see it,” Mayor Nieland said Wednesday of the possibility.
Nieland, a staunch supporter of the plan, believes the procedure has received enough study that it does not require another look.
“We had a lot of public meetings,” he said of the nine-month process that led to the plan’s passage. “It wasn’t done in a vacuum.”
Supporters of the plan in the House also drew heavy criticism for the vote on the measure on the same night that a public hearing on the proposal was held. During that session, the majority of speakers said they opposed the plan because it related to changes that were put in place on North Main Street.
When discussing Wednesday’s vote and whether, at a later date, it might be a good move to postpone taking action until further consideration, the mayor said, “I don’t know, I think this was realized too late – I don’t think there was anything intent.” bad on the part of anyone.
When discussing any need to revisit this issue, Nieland said of the individual aspects of the plan, “I think before doing anything we will reconsider it.”
“If and when we move forward, we will do so block by block,” he emphasized. “The plan is not written in stone.”
Small group “too noisy”?
The mayor also indicated Wednesday that he believes the opposition is hiding the fact that many downtown business operators largely support the measure, echoing comments he and other officials made at last Thursday’s council meeting.
“I walked up and down the main street and met at least 40 or 50 landlords,” he said.
While some dislike certain parts of it, “In my conversations with property owners, they are generally satisfied with most of the plan.”
The opposition was also addressed last Thursday by other supporters of the plan, including Commissioner Steve Yukelly.
Ukeley’s presentation of carefully worded notes included his belief that no one wanted North Main to see a one-lane palm-lined street—another West Palm Beach, Florida, Asheville “or anywhere else beside Mount Airy.”
The commissioner then long ago targeted what he called “the naysayers”, “traders of fear”, “prophets of the Day of Resurrection”, “disruptors” and “subversives”.
“I hope we can expect better from this small group of very loud but consistently negative people in our city,” Yukili continued.
Some claim to represent the silent majority, he said, but rely on assumptions, allusions, false narratives, negative comments, misinformation, partial facts, unconscious opinions, and even personal attacks to make their case.
“They can always be relied upon to conjure up a poisonous witch’s drink that isn’t appropriate even on Halloween,” Yukili said.
He says critics should come up with their own plan rather than attacking a positive plan that focuses on the future. “Let’s hear what you want to do instead of what you don’t want to do.”
Yokele said he wishes opponents of the plan would take time to get the facts on all the issues before developing uninformed opinions and spreading disinformation along with “outright lies.”
“Think about what we could achieve if we worked together,” said Yukele, who began his comment by saying.
The statements of their fellow city council members also showed that they are firmly in their positions.
Commissioner Mary Wood said she couldn’t understand why “a good plan is coming out of the roof,” as evidenced by the criticism.
Wood further stated that she had studied every aspect of the 78-page document from the outset and “did not see any reason to vote against it” on 1 September.
She agreed with Yokeley in love for Mount Airy and unwilling to belittle her charm, much of which is due to his people.
“The citizens of Mount Aire make our city and they can also take it apart,” Wood said.
Commissioner Joe Zalesek spoke in the same vein.
Zalesk noted: “Everyone has the right to protest, everyone has the right to pretend, but you have to look at the facts and not make things up.” “Don’t create lies about what we’re doing here.”
Zalesik said he’s also done research on the plan from the start and believes one of the ways it will help includes better mobility and the ability to walk downtown.
Council members were asked to provide such comments in response to citizens who spoke about the plan during a public forum at last Thursday’s meeting, including four people criticizing it and two supporting it.
Shirley Brinkley, a former commissioner at Mount Airy, said during her time on the podium that the mostly unsupportive remarks by citizens during the September 1 hearing did not appear to make a difference among the three board members who voted positively.
“I think you’ve made up your mind,” Brinkley said.
Karen Armstrong also reiterated her earlier concerns about not wanting to see small-town America as North Main Street devastated.
“People don’t really want to change the look of Main Street,” Armstrong said, adding that citizens shouldn’t “stand idly by and do nothing.”
John Pritchard, another speaker at the forum, made a simple plea to city officials: “Build on what works and don’t screw it up,” he said.
“Just work on the little things and keep the history alive,” urged Devon Hayes, who also spoke.
Main Street coordinator Lizzie Morrison of the Mount Airy Downtown Inc. Support for the plan during the forum and sought to allay concerns.
“I was born and raised here – this is my hometown – I’m not trying to erase what we love about it,” she said.
In addition, John Phillips, a North South Street business owner, spoke favorably of the downtown plan and thanked city officials for agreeing to the measure.
“When something like this comes along, there are always disagreements, people on different sides,” Phillips admitted. “It’s a myth that ‘keep things the way they are’ – change is inevitable.”
The local businessman believes the plan can increase revenue and lower property taxes.
Commissioner John Cowley, who voted against the measure on September 1 with Tom Koch, chairman, offered his opinion on that outcome — and its timing.
“It was clear to me the night we had the discussion that the public wasn’t ready for it,” Cowley said of the plan, which commissioners had the authority to act on—or not.
He emphasized that holding the vote at the time “was a bad decision on our part.”
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