Kevin Redding didn’t set out to get caught in the middle of a political food fight that erupted Monday between members of the Winston-Salem City Council.
It just happened, and he barely had time to duck.
Redding, you see, is the executive director of the Piedmont Land Conservancy, an environmental preservation group behind a plan that would keep 92 acres of prime, open land at the Crossnore School and Children’s Home from being overrun by developers.
He thought he’d come to the regularly scheduled Monday meeting to discuss, advocate for and answer questions about a proposed contribution from the city toward a plan to raise $6.5 million to purchase a conservation easement.
Before Redding got the chance, infighting over what looked to be a done deal devolved into a turf war that threatens to blow the whole thing up. And there Redding sat, likely looking for cover.
“We were right smack in the middle of it,” he said. “And we don’t want to be there.”
The land at the heart of the easement deal is spectacular — more than 90 acres of rolling pasture land along the northwestern edges of the Children’s Home that feature unspoiled views of downtown.
And what’s being worked out to keep the land from sprouting $1 million homes is pretty special, too.
By year’s end, the Piedmont Land Conservancy hopes to have commitments for $6.5 million that would allow them to buy that easement. Crossnore would still own the land, so development would be effectively parried.
The deal works out to be about $71,000 per acre, a fraction of what the land could fetch in an unfettered market. The land conservancy says it has about $4.5 million of the total in hand.
“No other city in North Carolina has anything like it,” Redding said Tuesday. “It’s very unique to Winston-Salem, part of the city’s history for 100 years. With this easement, we can make sure it’s part of the city for the next 100 years.”
Before that can happen, Council members have to work out our part of the deal. Maybe you know the details, maybe not.
Just in case, here’s the water cooler version:
The finance committee recommended last week chipping in $100,000; the conservancy had requested $500,000. Monday night, Council Member Bob Clark of the West Ward talked up a deal to double that to $200,000.
That set off Council Member D.D. Adams, in whose North Ward the Children’s Home sits. She used a slick parliamentary move to stop the vote. “As the ward representative, I find this disrespectful,” she said.
Before anyone could say “Pork Barrel Spending,” a war of words was on.
Ladies and gentleman, in the west corner, wearing a Brooks Brothers suit and shiny loafers, the Well Off. And in the east corner, wearing boots and a uniform shirt with a name on the pocket, the Working Poor. Let’s get ready to Rrrruuuummmmbbbble.
“It’s amazing how we can find some money for some things and not for other things,” said Council Member Vivian Burke, who proceeded to inform the city manager that she’d be presenting a list for needs in her Northeast Ward.
Debate over slices of the city’s $496.4 million budget all you like. The professional number crunchers in City Hall work hard to spread spending equally across wards. Pull up a list of big ticket projects built (and paid) for in bond packages passed since 2000 if you have any lingering doubts.
Still, “Where’s Mine?” is a question as old as the Republic. Pushing the plate out for a bigger slice of the public pie is old-school for elected officials at all levels.
Line of demarcation
The subtext — and it’s not hard to find — is that the Crossnore School and Children’s Home property sits along an economic fault line roughly demarcated by Pilgrim Court.
Pilgrim runs into the main gate of the Arbor Acres retirement community. To its east sits the Boston-Thurmond neighborhood, where working-class residents are leery of encroaching gentrification. To its west lies Buena Vista and the elegant, stately homes along East Kent Drive.
So it’s natural that neighbors — and by extension, their elected representatives — on both sides of the Children’s Home would be keenly interested in the easement.
At the end of Boston-Thurmond closest to the land in question are a series of streets and avenues named for dead presidents. Taft and Roosevelt end at heavy metal gates marked by No Trespassing signs.
That part of the neighborhood also sits on high ground. The tallest buildings downtown are visible over the top of Paisley IB Magnet School.
A government employee sitting behind the wheel of a new pickup — his ID lanyard and the logo painted on the truck’s door gave it away — spoke for neighbors when discussing the proposed easement.
With or without a city contribution, if that deal doesn’t get done, he said, developers would line up to shower cash on Crossnore if the land is allowed to hit the open market.
“Development would go against the history of what the Children’s Home is about,” the man said. “What happens to the neighborhood? I imagine it’d be high-dollar homes that get built. And how long before people over here would start getting pushed out?”
Lacking a firm deal, with or without city money, not long. And council members wouldn’t get to set conditions about affordable housing units in any subsequent private development deals.
It’s likely that disputes over the city’s contribution will be worked out soon. The guess here is that they’ve already started. Most times, council members work and play well together.
Still, when squabbles and turf wars boil over, the middle is no place to be. Ask the executive director of the Piedmont Land Conservancy.
“We heard that substitute motion made and we thought everything was fine,” Redding said. “It took a few minutes to figure out what happened.
“We don’t see this as being controversial. It’s a win for everybody.”
Unless you’re caught in the crossfire of a political food fight.
Officials in Rural Hall and Tobaccoville will consider renewing their annexation agreement that calls for neither municipality to annex areas next to the other town’s boundaries.
Under the proposal, the town of Rural Hall would not annex areas west of its boundaries, and the village of Tobaccoville would not annex areas east of their boundaries.
In January 2000, the municipalities initially agreed to the annexation’s provisions, a document shows.
The new agreement is the right approach for both municipalities, Mayor-elect Tim Flinchum of Rural Hall said.
“As the annexation agreement indicates, establishing an annexation boundary enhances orderly planning by both towns as well as the residents and property owners in the areas of possible future annexations,” Flinchum said in an email. “Rural Hall has a great working relationship with the village of Tobaccoville.
“The annexation agreement provides clarity to as to which areas each respective municipality may expand into in the future,” Flinchum said. “That way we are working together as neighboring municipalities and not against each other.”
The initial agreement has served its purpose “by allowing for orderly planning by both municipalities and the residents and property owners in areas adjacent to each municipality,” said Dan Corder, the village administrator of Tobaccoville. “It also has enhanced communication between Rural Hall and Tobaccoville regarding annexation.”
Tobaccoville Mayor Mark Baker also said that proposed agreement is appropriate.
“We have a great relationship and want to continue this agreement in the future,” Baker said.
The Rural Hall Town Council will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 regarding annexation, a town document says. The hearing will be held in its Town Hall at 423 Bethania-Rural Hall Road in Rural Hall.
The Tobaccoville Village Council will consider the proposed agreement at its meeting on Dec. 5 at its Village Hall, at 4260 Tobaccoville Road in Tobaccoville.
D.D. Adams says she’s never used a “no consideration” motion during her time on the Winston-Salem City Council, but that she felt she had no choice Monday as the eight-member panel moved toward a vote on contributing $200,000 to help preserve 92 acres of farmland belonging to Crossnore School & Children’s Home.
Adams, who represents North Ward, said she acted in part because she lacked detailed information on where the money would come from and its implications for other city needs.
But there’s more: Adams said the city’s lower-income communities, its people in “black, poor, brown communities,” have higher priorities than preserving the 92 acres along Reynolda Road, even if those acres do back up to the Boston-Thurmond neighborhood, which has high levels of poverty.
“There are poor places in this city where the city as a whole never invested in parks and recreation,” Adams said after Monday’s meeting, adding that what the people in Boston-Thurmond need is better housing and health care.
One thing’s for sure: The story of how the request got sidetracked on Monday is one of multiple perspectives and even a mishap or two.
Adams has argued that her ward’s residents want existing parks repaired and better maintained, and that people in Boston-Thurmond don’t see the Children’s Home preserve as one that would be for their neighborhood.
However, the president of the Boston-Thurmond Neighborhood Association, Patricia Caldwell, wrote a letter to the Piedmont Land Conservancy last December endorsing the deal.
“The land has been, is currently and, we hope, will continue to be an integral part of our community,” Caldwell wrote. “The planned walking trail will provide outdoor recreational opportunities while building support for open space preservation and land conservation.”
The letter goes on to say that the neighborhood association will encourage residents to support the project.
Boston-Thurmond and Crossnore are both in Adams’ North Ward, but the Crossnore property also faces some of the city’s richest neighborhoods across Reynolda Road in Northwest Ward.
Adams said that while the Boston-Thurmond Neighborhood Association may have endorsed the effort, she’s heard from others in the broader Boston-Thurmond area who are on her side in not giving the land preservation so high a priority.
“I have to look at the bigger picture,” she said. “If they want to do something to improve the quality of life, I see that as a grocery store.”
The Adams motion of no consideration stopped Monday night’s vote, but under council rules the issue comes right back to the board on Dec. 2. Several council members say they expect the debate to be reopened at that time.
Some background: A city council committee voted last week to give $100,000 to the Piedmont Land Conservancy toward that group’s effort to preserve the 92 acres. The land is the northern and undeveloped section of 200 acres Crossnore owns on Reynolda Road. Crossnore is the successor to the Children’s Home founded by the United Methodist Church in 1909.
The land preservation group needs to raise $6.5 million by the end of the year to pay Crossnore for the conservation easement that would stop any future development of the site.
In committee last week, Northwest Ward Council Member Jeff MacIntosh advocated contributing the full $500,000 requested by the Piedmont Land Conservancy, but found no support from other council members. The committee voted to give $100,000 from recreation bond money, and Adams was OK with that.
MacIntosh says that his constituents are strongly in favor of preserving the Children’s Home property. Advocates of the deal say it offers what could be a unique chance to prevent eventual development on the site.
MacIntosh said that going into Monday night’s meeting he had talked to most of the other council members, in hopes of getting $250,000 for the land-preservation effort.
“I knew D.D. was not going to be able to support it, but things went off the rails when the motion did not spell out where the money would come from,” MacIntosh said Tuesday.
Actually, the motion did spell out where the money was to come from, but did so incorrectly. West Ward Council Member Robert Clark made the motion for a $200,000 contribution and said the money would come from undesignated general fund reserves.
That’s a pot of money the city struggles to keep at a certain level, and Adams says she had a problem with the motion right there because of the concern over the amount of money in reserves. She says she needed to know how that would work, and couldn’t support the spending otherwise.
MacIntosh says his idea was to take the money from another pot of money: $3.1 million in unspent capital project funds that were left over from the Union Station renovation.
Had discussion continued on Monday, both Clark and MacIntosh said the mix-up would likely have been cleared up.
But it is clear also that Adams’ concerns go beyond the source of money.
“I feel like the park benefits the people that live on the other side of Reynolda Road rather than Boston-Thurmond,” she said. “As an African American woman representing parts of the city that are African American ... we see things differently. I don’t agree with finding another $150,000 to add to a neighborhood that has Hanes Park and Reynolda House.”
As Adams sees it, the preservation of the Children’s Home site doesn’t weigh as heavily in the scales as other, more pressing issues on her side of town.
“We African Americans built this town, and we never got the investment or reinvestment that the other people benefited from our resources and our labor,” Adams said.
Clark disputes that the preserve wouldn’t bring any benefit to Boston-Thurmond. In fact, he said he wants to make sure there are parking areas provided on that side and other locations so that people can come out to enjoy the area.
But Clark agrees with Adams’ comment about differing needs.
“I think that is a valid comment,” he said. “Different parts of town do have different needs. But the city doesn’t operate grocery stores and health clinics. If you look at the map, most of the parks are in the east side of town.”
To Clark, spending $200,000 is a cheap way to get what amounts to a new public park, although it would be one without playgrounds, ball fields and a recreation center.
South Ward Council Member John Larson sees the Children’s Home preservation plan as one that would actually bring very different neighborhoods closer together.
“I see this as a connector between neighborhoods,” Larson said, “It will allow people in Boston-Thurmond to come down to Hanes Park without taking that circuitous route on Northwest Boulevard. It protects the Children’s Home and protects the green space we need for environmental reasons. Ultimately, it would be a connector between multiple neighborhoods.”
Larson thinks the problem Monday may have been that Adams was blindsided by the increased amount in the request. Adams said she only learned about the change in a conversation with MacIntosh just before the meeting.
Northeast Ward Council Member Vivian Burke said she was in agreement with giving the land conservancy $100,000, but not twice that amount. Part of it is the needs of the poor people in other parts of the city that aren’t getting met, she said.
But another problem is how the doubling was brought up at the last minute just before the council meeting.
What’s the point of having a decision in the Finance Committee, Burke said, if members decide to bring up changes in between committee and the full council?
“When we try to have big projects discussed in regular council meetings, you are not thinking it through,” she said. “When you are in a committee, you can think things through.”
East Ward Council Member Annette Scippio said she, too, was surprised by the suddenness of the new proposal, and would have voted against Clark’s motion for that reason — in part:
“I was going to go for the $100,000,” Scippio said. “I have been working to get a park in the far East Ward, near Glen High School. That area was annexed years ago, and at one of the town meetings the folks said, ‘We don’t have a park out here.‘ I didn’t want to give out all the money for Crossnore that I could use for my residents on the east side.”
When the proposal for doubling the money came up, even though the extra money wasn’t from the park-acquisition fund, Scippio said she had too many questions to support it.
“I’m all for preserving that land,” she said. “It is a beautiful site, it is right in the middle of the city. I didn’t like being blindsided.”
On Monday, Southwest Ward Council Member Dan Besse spoke in favor of the $200,000 contribution, since only $100,000 was coming from the bond-funded park acquisition fund. Besse said the city’s low-income residents deserve a large chunk of the parks-acquisition money.
While supporting the preservation of the Children’s Home property, Besse says it is not “environmentally unique,” and certainly not a high priority compared to other needs in low- and moderate-income communities.
The property “is the kind of pretty view that you would get in the country anywhere around Winston-Salem,” Besse said. “The only thing unique about that property is where it is located. And where it is located does not fit an unmet need for the great majority of the residents of Winston-Salem.”
It would be different, Besse said, if the land were “smack in the middle of a poor neighborhood under-served with open space and walking trails and fields for the kids.”
In his thinking, though, the city would be justified in spending some of the leftover Union Station money that has been tentatively earmarked for upgrades to the Grand Pavilion Ballroom under the Embassy Suites hotel downtown.
Despite her objections and motion of no consideration, Adams said she does expect full discussion when the council revisits the decision Dec. 2.
“I made it quite clear I had nothing against the project,” Adams said.