Published: Sep 25, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Sep 25, 2012 06:09 PM
Small towns are often painted as quiet backwaters where nothing of import happens. It has been my experience, however, that reality is often quite different.
The Carrboro community has been discussing, often heatedly, the repurposing of the old Johnnys Bait and Tackle.
Johnnys has been on Main Street quite a long time. As a bait and tackle store that also sold sundries, pumpkins, Christmas trees, beer and wine for off-site consumption, it coexisted peacefully for decades in the middle of a 100 percent residential neighborhood. Once I bought a red plastic saucer sled on an unexpected snow day.Properties change hands, and Johnnys is now a coffee shop. It is still a quaint old building that sits smack in the middle of a 100 percent residential neighborhood.
Its zoning is still grandfathered for local food sales, sale of beer and wine for off-site consumption, sale of sundries and pumpkins, etc. Its neighbors are still at peace with these grandfathered zoning provisions. This is the environment they bought into.
But, the grandfathered zoning is not the business plan of the current owners. Their business plan has expanded to the sale of alcohol for onsite consumption. Theyd like to make Johnnys a night spot, where folks can come, gather, have a beer and listen to live music. They seek a rezoning from the town in order to legally pursue these opportunities.
There has been an argument between adjacent property owners who dont want a bar in their neighborhood and the property owners who cant make a living out of this property unless it is a bar.
The reality is that this isnt about good people and bad people. It is about municipal zoning and historically conceived best practices.
It is a best practice in North Carolina and throughout the United States to avoid spot zoning. Spot zoning is when a municipal zoning authority grants a special zoning change that benefits one property owner at the expense of all the other property owners within a prescribed radial distance.
To grant Johnnys a license to operate as a night club and bar in the midst of currently and historically zoned 100 percent residential property is spot zoning. Carrboros planned business district ends a mile from the Johnnys property at the Looking Glass Café.
The current owners of Johnnys were fully cognizant of the propertys zoning constraints when they bought it.
The group home for handicapped children next to Johnnys, the church across the street, the homeowners on Westview Drive, whose street is blocked by the parked cars of Johnnys patrons, all have complained they do not want a bar in their neighborhood.
They are within their rights to ask that Carrboro honor the trust they placed in the town when they committed to 30-year mortgages and raising their families here.
Moreover, all residential property owners in Carrboro should be concerned about a town government that would consider allowing spot zoning for commercial business in residential neighborhoods.
Law is practiced based on rules and precedent. If precedent is established for allowing commercial businesses, be they bars, gas stations or bowling alleys, in neighborhoods, then no matter what it considers its power to discern and control, the town is going to find itself in a bind the next time a business owner requests a zoning change that does not align with the surrounding properties.
We are all good people. But that doesnt mean zoning and precedent dont count. They do.
Melanie Cecil lives in Carrboro.