“The City Council just decided to do things their own particular way and this is our only recourse.” Christopher Mansfield one of eight plaintiffs
By Michael Abramowitz
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Eight Greenville residents near East Carolina University have filed a suit against the city seeking reversal of City Council actions that created a new zone that allows property owners to increase their rental capacity from three unrelated occupants to four.
The plaintiffs — Christopher Mansfield; Myron Caspar; Beverly Harris; Catherine and J. Charles Young; Clell Moore; and Beth Thompson and her husband, Eric Horsman — filed claims alleging state and federal constitutional violations.
The first claim alleges that by establishing the University Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative Overlay District and creating higher occupancy tolerances within it, the city and its individual council members “created … different definitions of the word, ‘family,’ and two clear classes of persons and properties, those within the district and those outside it.”
The second claim alleges that the “four-unrelated amendment” increases the density of the new overlay district and adversely affects the “character … and quiet nature of the neighborhood” for those plaintiffs that live inside it. The plaintiffs living outside the overlay district allege that their properties are subjected to unreasonable zoning regulations that set arbitrary and capricious boundaries.
The overlay district and the new four-unrelated amendment have no reasonable relationship to the objectives set out in the council’s ordinances adopted in October, the claim alleges. It also said that the overlay district is inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and was adopted despite opposition in September from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, the Neighborhood Advisory Board, East Carolina University executives, The Daily Reflector editorial board and more than 79 percent of respondents to a citywide survey.
The final claim in the suit alleges the city engaged in illegal spot zoning, the creation of a proportionally smaller district surrounded by a larger district that has similar zoning but different regulations.
“The City Council just decided to do things their own particular way and this is our only recourse,” Mansfield said on Friday about the suit that was filed by attorneys with the Ward and Smith law firm.
Attorneys with Ward and Smith and city attorney Dave Holec could not be reached for comment.
The Council voted 4-2 on Oct. 11 to adopt the ordinances that created the UNRI overlay district and the no-more-than-four amendment. Its stated aim was to “preserve, revitalize and restore” the Tar River-University area by “encouraging investment.”
Council members Marion Blackburn, in whose district the affected neighborhood sits, and Calvin Mercer voted against both measures.
“We have a small number of investment property owners who may or may not have supported the overlay; and let’s be clear, not all of them did,” Blackburn said on Friday. “We had a top-down policy that effectively shut out resident homeowners from adding their opinions to this policy initiative. It can’t be all or nothing, and that’s what happened here. One interest group got everything and another got nothing.”
Councilman Max Joyner Jr., who most actively pursued the ordinance changes, said they were a long time coming.
“There’s always been talk, talk, talk about the problems in the university neighborhood — the trash, the parking, the crowded conditions, crime rates and the mix of renters versus owners — but never any solutions offered,” Joyner said. “I sat down with the folks in that neighborhood, then drafted some regulations and presented them (to the council).”
Joyner said the city legislation has built-in flexibility for any changes the council or residents want to make after seeing how the neighborhood is affected by the new regulations. A newly adopted ordinance restricting commuter parking in the district has relieved much of the automobile congestion there, and concerns about the affect of the no-more-than-four component of the ordinance have thus far proven to be unfounded, Joyner said.
Mayor Allen Thomas, also named as a defendant in the suit, supported the initiative as a way to corral the “out-of-control” rental component and the increasing crime rate in the university area. He said the city will vigorously defend its actions, meant to improve an at-risk area.
“There was a ton of misinformation and scare tactics put out, but you can see the improvements in the area already,” Thomas said.
Contact Michael Abramowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9571.
via The Daily Reflector.