Perhaps the very best time to jump into a fight is before the two combatants ever put up their fists to duke it out.
Right now, it’s just a staring contest, so we’re jumping in.
On one side is the town of Elizabethtown, which has been hard at work on a downtown revitalization project that began a few years ago. As part of that effort, the town is now in the “tying up loose ends” stage that includes a zoning ordinance focusing on awnings in the business district.
The discussion for that ordinance began and it was subsequently adopted in May 2011. In July 2013, the town fathers set January 2014 as the dealine for business owners to bring their awnings into compliance. The town even offered facade grants to assist the landlords with the cost. In a nutshell, the ordinance stipulated that a business’ awning could not be less than 8 feet high and extend more than 6 feet out from the building into the town’s right-of-way. The reasoning for that, primarily, was to protect both the newly planted trees and the awnings themselves.
On the other side is John P. Melvin and Eugene Anderson, landlords for the Bladen Hardware building on U.S. 701 South. Their awning has been deemed by the town not to comply to the new zoning ordinance, and the town’s fathers are now contemplating code-enforcement procedures if the awning is not brought into compliance — and they are already seven months past the compliance deadline.
In an effort to avoid coming down with a heavy fist, the town is extending its offer of a facade grant to the landlords — but based on Melvin’s visit to the Bladen Journal recently, they appear incensed over the issue and even unlikely to make any changes.
For a better understanding of where the landlords are coming from, you can read Erin Smith’s story on Page 1A today. But it’s our belief that Melvin and Anderson, if they share the same opinion as we think they do, are fighting a losing and unnecessary battle.
The town is well within its right to establish new zoning ordinances for its downtown business district. On top of that, it’s basically the first one landlords have had to deal with in a few decades, so it’s not like this is a regular hardship being tossed their way.
Every landlord in the downtown business district complied with the new awning ordinance within the specified timeframe — except one.
We think Melvin and Anderson are surely good businessmen who are proud to be part of Elizabethtown’s healthy downtown business district. We also think that, in the end, they will do what is right by applying for the town’s facade grant and bringing the Bladen Hardware building into compliance.
But if, for some reason, they continue this uphill fight, the town has no choice but to initiate code-enforcement proceedings. And that time probably isn’t far away.
We think it’s well past time for Melvin and Anderson to blink.