Final say on street names rests with commission

Feb. 16, 2013 @ 02:00 PM

Mayor Bernita Sims said she hopes City Council will take the lead on renaming a street for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., though that appears to be an uphill fight at this point.
She’s been trying to build consensus among the council as the first step in the process. Under the city’s development ordinance, however, it’s the Planning & Zoning Commission — and not the council — that approves street renamings.
According to city planners, a street renaming can be requested by the council, the commission, a city department or through a public petition signed by at least 66.67 percent of affected property owners.
In order to approve a street-name change, the commission must find that the request “is in accordance with the City’s street name guidelines and policies.” It must also determine that a name change “will serve the public interest by enhancing public safety or that it will do no harm.”
The third standard could be the most significant in the debate about a proposed renaming for King.
The commission has to determine “that the change will not adversely affect property values or cause excessive economic impact to property owners or the city.” It also must rule that the change “will result in an overall public good that is found to outweigh known or perceived economic interests.”
The commission has the authority to make the final decision about a street-name change. There is no appeal to the council.
One of the sticking points in past debates about renamings as well as recent discourse on the topic has been the potential burden a name change would place on residents, businesses and other property owners who would be faced with bearing costs associated with changing their addresses along a renamed street.
In addition, the city would face the cost of changing street signs and maps, as well as updating its data bases, service accounts and other records.
These issues have drawn attention as the discussion has centered on the potential renaming of Kivett Drive. According to city estimates, a total of 414 properties on Kivett would be affected.
The debate has stymied the council, which appears unlikely to support a renaming of Kivett at this time.
Councilman Jason Ewing suggested letting one of the citizens committees Sims has proposed forming come back to the council with recommendations on a way to honor King.
“Right now, we’re going round and round and we’ve got nine different ideas of what should or could be done. We’re not getting anywhere,” he said. “This would take a lot of time to make sure there’s property owner buy-in on Kivett.”
Councilman Foster Douglas said he thinks it’s time for council to advocate a renaming for King.
“I don’t think we as a council need to keep passing the buck,” said Douglas. “If you look at all the streets that we have eliminated that had names of historical value, no one said one word about it. We’ve given a lot of street closures to (High Point University) for their growth.”
Councilman Jim Davis pointed out that the HPU street abandonments were different than what is being pondered in this case.
“High Point University owned all of the property on both sides of that street,” said Davis. “For example, O.A. Kirkman Way — I did not feel good about taking away part of the history, but we had 100 percent ownership on both sides of the street that desired that.”
Councilman Jeff Golden said he thinks the arguments about the costs to property owners associated with a renaming are overblown.
“I think some of the costs that people were talking about are actually fabricated,” said Golden. “It’s just a basic address change for the average person.”
Sims said that, since council appears not to “have the political will to make this happen,” she would like to see a petition from 67 percent of the property owners on Kivett.
“I guess at this point, the appropriate way to move forward with this is to get a citizens group out there to actually put forth a petition to change the name of Kivett Drive, because I’m not budging on that,” she said.
The mayor said she’s confounded by the level of resistance the proposal seems to spark every time it comes up.
“Other communities much smaller than we are have embraced this whole concept. They’ve done it and they’ve moved on,” she said.
Sims said she hasn’t detected any racial animus in any of the objections to the proposal, unlike the last time the city went through this more than a decade ago.
“The last time we attempted to get this done, it was definitely there,” she said. “We have a population of minorities — and I’m saying all-inclusive minorities — in this city that’s above the 40 percent range. These folks aren’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s going to probably grow — not necessarily the African-American piece of it, but the other minorities in this community. So we have to be inclusive. We have to embrace. We have to target some of what we do in our programming toward those other parts of our community.”
In her view, renaming Kivett for King would be an example of this type of outreach.
“I don’t think it’s all about (King). I think it’s more about the legacy he’s left, and how do we acknowledge that and then give our children something to point to and say, ‘You know, we have our own heroes in this country,’” she said. “It’s not just about one particular race of people. I think it’s about the whole dynamic of who Dr. King was.”