ANDY THOMAS: Village Again Shows Its Difficult Side
One of the items on the agenda was a local merchant's awning, which he replaced two and a half years ago on the front face of an edifice which he owns in Market Square.
Seems that the old one was tattered and finally fell down, fortunately not hurting anyone. So the owner did the right thing: He fixed it. Everything was copacetic until someone passed by and noted that the store-owner was in violation of a village requirement that said he must get approval to replace the worn-out, pre-existing awning.
Now, this person is a very well-known villager, retailer and active contributor to various local causes. Blind-sided, he gets a certified mail letter from the village saying that his awning is in violation of village specs -- two and a half years after the new awning had been installed! The legalistic and stern letter stated that unless he went through proper channels and procedures, he would be subject to a fine of $500 per day.
It occurs to me that we are not a big-enough municipality to warrant certified mail within the same zip code. Also, since the businessman knows many of the village officials, why couldn't they simply give him a phone call and ask him to talk with P&Z to work the matter out? The tone of the letter sounded like it was a top priority on the village agenda, with immediate action required.
Shades of swing-set and knee-jerk curfew debacles.
A couple of routine questions and less than a minute later, the P&Z board approved the awning. Much ado about nothing.
I later found out about another nightmarish awning story, just across the street. This remodeled boutique is a very well-appointed and an attractive place to shop. It pained the owner to recall the episode when I asked a few questions. He was noticeably still upset even after the year or so that has passed. He said that he and his wife picked a favorite color and applied for a permit from the village, about $350.
At his audience with the P&Z board, he felt he was blind-sided, too, as the color of the awning was not "muted." He stated that there is nothing in the village specs restricting any color. But he was denied his new shade because it was not "muted." No one seems to know what the definition of "muted" is.
There are actually two awnings, one on the west side and another on the south side of the store. Each awning is about 10 feet by 12 feet. Printed on each is the name of the store with two small figures spacing the words of the store. The P&Z decided that the colors of these figures, roughly two inches high, were out of spec.
After much time, energy and emotion were expended, the matter of the colored awnings and figures was resolved. It was alleged that someone from P&Z suggested black as an alternative, not realizing that black is not a color -- it is the absence of color.
The new historic Old Town encompasses buildings, lots and houses that were in the old version but not the new proposed one. The new plan is a follow-up of the Long Range Plan done in 2003. According to public record, a house on Graham Street was in the old version of the "Old Town" but not in the new one, as a "contributing" site because the property has been "architecturally compromised."
If you own a lot in the proposed historic area, many predict that the value of your property will increase notwithstanding local economic conditions. But building on those lots will not make the dwelling a historic one. There may be a chance to get a tax break on property within the new historical boundary.
If one wants to put up a building on a vacant lot in the historical zone, he/she needs to present his case before the Historical Commission, not P&Z nor the Village Council.
Some houses in the proposed zone are excluded from the historic area because they are "non-contributing." One of the criteria for "contributing" is that the house must have been built before 1970 and maintained its historic fabric, according to a village consultant, April Montgomery.
Many times I have complained in this space that our village does not seem to employ common sense and, instead, goes by the letter of the law, even though the law may be subject to interpretation.
I think the village has created its own problem by being so haughty and out of touch with its citizens. I hope that a future mayor and council will recognize that their predecessors have established an adversarial situation and will work to improve what should be a friendly civic environment.
I think Village Manager Andy Wilkison and other village workers are tops. But the guidance they receive from a wishy-washy Village Council compromises their work big time, in my opinion. It's up to the council to make things fair, equitable and reasonable in our village, but they seem to be too protective and litigious when they don't really need to be.
Andy Thomas lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com
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