Citizens don't want Oakwood Villas

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By The Staff

At the July 24, 2007, Bedford City Council Hearing, members voted (5 - 2) for an ordinance approving the preliminary plans for Oakwood Villas Town homes (4-plex and duplex patio condominiums behind Bedford Memorial Hospital) and amending the zoning map from R-1 to PRD.

The only argument I heard FOR this development from city staff was, "The comprehensive plan, among other things, suggests the need to offer a variety of expanded living options." I saw no petition from citizens who want to see this project built or any kind of marketing survey to justify such an outcry. Only a very few real estate agents and the developers? advocates spoke in favor of the proposal while an overwhelming majority spoke against it.

The developers left many unanswered questions and proposed only a "band-aid" fix to the braking site distance problems posed as one of the conditions attached by the City Planning Commission. The fact that 95 percent of the 120 attendees at the July 10, 2007, meeting were opposed to this rezoning and a petition of 337 names of neighbors opposing the rezoning was also presented seemed of little concern to most members of Council.

The next steps in this process are to get County approval for a rezoning of their portion of this project. Bedford County requires a Neighborhood Informational Meeting where all interested persons should be able to get answers to questions side-stepped by the developers at City meetings and not finalized in the preliminary plans. Only immediate neighbors have received notice of this meeting at 7 p.m. on Nov. 8 on the first floor of the County Administration Building. However, it is a public meeting for all interested persons, not just immediate neighbors.

Then, start watching for newspaper notices of pending meetings of the County Planning Commission and the County Board of Supervisors regarding action on this rezoning. There are still chances that cooler heads will prevail and stop this rezoning. The City ordinance can only take affect if the County passes their rezoning.

In an effort to appeal to County Commission and Board members and the community before these votes, I want to list some of the key reasons why rezoning should be denied:

1. Simply put, one of the most compelling reasons is that so many people oppose the change. The purpose of government is to serve the people, not subject them to the will of others.

2. Zoning is an issue that literally strikes closer to home than most any other. For that reason, it is one that local government is expected to, and has a duty to, act on according to the will of the people who are directly involved.

3. Ask yourself, how would you react to 108 condos in your backyard? Most citizens of Bedford can easily imagine themselves trading places with members of the affected neighborhoods. When they do, they come to the same conclusions - the proposed change is unnecessary, it is irresponsible, and its effect is to serve a few at the expense of many. Is this representative democracy or caving to special interests?

4. What is the loss to the Bedford community if the zoning is not changed? The developers will look to other, more suitable sites for their plans. The citizens will go on trusting their leaders to make the right choices for the right reasons. Nothing is lost but the headaches and ills that spoiled neighborhoods would have brought.

5. People built and moved to these neighborhoods for a variety of reasons: natural beauty, elbow room, streets that are quiet and safe for children, to be among others who prefer neighborhoods of single-family residences with owners who take pride in their homes and their yards. These neighborhoods were made possible by the promise of permanence that is implicit in single-family zoning. For what is zoning but an agreement between people and government to fix the use of a specified area? Through such agreements, people gain the freedom to build homes and lives with an assurance of stability. The proposed zoning change is the breaking of the promise around which people here have built their lives. Look at the beautiful neighborhoods, really look at them, and you will see - the people, with their love for their homes and neighbors, have exceeded any standard for holding up their end of the agreement. Let anyone who votes for the change explain why he/she is breaking the government's promise.

6. These neighborhoods are a long-established and admired part of Bedford City and County. As surely as a zoning change will harm them, it will harm the wider Bedford Area by introducing uncertainty into planning throughout the area. If Bedford wants to be known for unplanned and helter-skelter growth, this is the fast-track decision.

7. No one objects to Bedford having a condominium development. Most of us see condominiums as one important component of future growth. But, this is not a metropolitan area for which scarcity of land forces undesirable decisions. We are blessed with much open land and many sites superior to this one for multi-family development. This location is wrong. It is wrong for the people who live here, it is wrong for condominiums, and it is wrong for the future of Bedford.

8. One of the jobs of government is to promote progress. Sometimes, progress requires that sacrifices be made. But sacrifice is required only when (i) there are no other options, and (ii) the gain to the community exceeds the cost of the sacrifice. This proposal fails on both counts.

9. There has been talk of the proposed condominiums being "up-scale" and targeted at "affluent seniors." Show me 10 condo developments that started with these sorts of promises, give then a decade, and I will show you nine that have failed to meet many of their expectations (other than profit to the developers). Relative to single-family housing, condos invariably have higher occupant turnover, higher rental usage, faster degradation in appearance, and negative (rather than positive) impact on their neighbors. These problems all increase as time goes by while the development's original "vision" fades as surely as any other marketing tool. We should all keep in mind that developer promises are sometimes as meaningless as they are unenforceable. (No guarantees.)

10. If the proposal is developed as explained with "random location build-out," return to R-1 (promised to several inquiring members of the City Planning Commission before their vote), if this project is abandoned, would be VERY difficult, if not impossible. If such a reversion would be allowed, "spot-zoning" would occur. "Spot zoning" has been challenged successfully in several court cases through-out the country.

11. If PRD is permitted on this 27 acre plat, adjacent R-1 undeveloped plats could apply more easily for approval to develop similarly ? where does this stop?

12. This is the third time that developers have tried to change the zoning in this area. The last time they reversed course upon learning of the peoples? objections. The government should stop it now, once and for all. We should not have to fight this battle again and again. But if we have to, we will.

If this application for rezoning continues, I am asking the citizens of Bedford to contact members of the Bedford County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to encourage them to give utmost consideration to our future, and in doing so, to preserve the trust between people and government that makes a good community like Bedford work.