Members of High Point City Council heard a presentation by an Asheville consultant this afternoon on the economic benefits of nurturing pedestrian-friendly, infill development by slowing down traffic.
The study completed by Joe Minicozzi, entitled “How We Measure the City: The Dollars and Sense of Development,” sought to quantify the economic impact should the city pursue a master plan for the Uptowne neighborhood produced by the preeminent new urbanist Andres Duany. Both Minicozzi and Duany’s studies were financed through private funds raised by City Project, a nonprofit whose mission is promoting downtown growth. The nonprofit answers to an independent board but the salary of its executive director, Wendy Fuscoe, has been paid by the city.
Following the presentation, Fuscoe went out to find coffee for Minicozzi as her guest gave a media interview. Next on the city council’s agenda was a presentation of the fiscal year 2014-15 budget. Later, Fuscoe and Minicozzi reconvened across the street at the High Point Theatre, where the consultant gave his presentation to the general public.
In the meantime, the city council voted 7-2 to eliminate Fuscoe’s job and dissolve City Project — ending an initiative five years in the making.
Councilman Jay Wagner, who represents Ward 4, and at-large Councilman Britt Moore cast the two no votes.
“As soon as the vote was taken I got up and left,” Wagner announced to about 40 people attending Minicozzi’s talk at High Point Theatre. “What I’m telling you is if you want to see this happen, you need a new council because the folks who are there are not going to make this happen. They’re not interested in this. They think that we can do Bandaid approaches, that we don’t need to do anything transformational. They don’t buy into the projects that we’ve seen. They don’t believe Duany. I’m telling you: If you want to see change in this town, if you want to see this happen and you want to see a long-term better future for our city, you need to elect a new council.”
After the vote, Councilwoman Becky Smothers dismissed any notion that public policy — through traffic engineering, zoning changes or streetcaping — should play a role in revitalizing the core city.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” she said in an interview. “It just has to be done by the private sector.”
Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall, like Smothers a former mayor expressed skepticism, saying she would have to see the full report and examine Minicozzi’s sources before commenting.
“It’s time for a revolt,” Aaron Clinard, a local lawyer who serves on the board of directors of City Project, told the crowd at High Point Theatre. “I don’t like using that word, but right now our city council is dysfunctional.”
Seated in the audience, Jo Godfrey shouted, “Moral Monday!” One man in the audience — mostly in the range of 45-65-years-old — said High Point citizens need to go to Raleigh to seek legislative change to do away with the ward method of electing city council representatives. Another said he was texting a message to council members: “I’m embarrassed by your actions tonight. You’re killing this town.”
Filing opens for the mayor and all members of city council on July 7. High Point, alone among the three Triad cities, elects its city council on even years without a primary.
After the program concluded, Fuscoe embraced Wagner.
“That’s a cheap shot,” she said. “They knew we were going to be over here.”
She added, “To me, it’s kind of a backhanded compliment. If I was sitting on my butt not getting anything accomplished they wouldn’t have fired me.”
Godfrey said she wished she had gotten involved earlier.
“Our children were born and raised here,” she said. “I was with my daughter the other day. She’s about 40. She said, ‘What’s happened to High Point? It looks awful.’ If we can go to Raleigh to protest we can do it here.”
Read more about this in Wednesday’s print edition of Triad City Beat.
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