It’s pretty tough to “beat a dead horse” if the horse continues to kick back, so when Staff Writer Erin Smith began inquiring with Elizabethtown Town Council members and Mayor Sylvia Campbell about where things stood with the ongoing tug-o-war with Pat Melvin over his awning at the Bladen Hardware building, we had hopes that things were being quietly solved.
What we found — and you can read for yourself in today’s Page 1A story — is that there has been no kicking from Melvin, no pushing or urging by the town and, in fact, no discussion on the issue in several months.
But solved? Hardly.
After speaking directly with a handful of council members, including the mayor, here’s what we know:
— The Bladen Hardware awning is in violation of the town’s downtown awning ordinance, as it was written and passed a few years ago.
— The town is taking a soft approach to enforcing the ordinance where Melvin is concerned for three reasons: first, Melvin and his business partner Gene Anderson, are pretty well entrenched in town as good businessmen; second, the “spirit” of the ordinance was aimed at awnings that may infringe on the growth of trees planted during downtown refurbishing, and Bladen Hardware has no trees in front; and third, the town is concerned with taking the matter to court because of the cost.
— Melvin is hard-headed and stubborn, and according to at least one of the town officials we spoke with, he “simply doesn’t like to be told what to do.”
— The town had absolutely no problem enforcing an ordinance with Kevin O’Sullivan, the man who whittled walking sticks in front of The Front Porch, then La Hacienda, with the intent of chasing him to the Cape Fear Farmer’s Market. Instead O’Sullivan, who sells the sticks to help pay for important medication, chose to move to Tar Heel.
— Town Manager Eddie Madden was given the direction by the Town Council at one point to handle the situation within the legal limits allowed — then his hands were tied when town officials decided to back off.
Most are seeing this as a stalemate. We are not.
What is clear to us is that, somehow, Melvin understands that he can bully the town and for a myriad of reasons, the town is allowing it. The town has done everything possible to notify Melvin of the ordinance, that he is in violation, that there are consequences for not coming into compliance and spent far too much time coddling both his ego and common sense. All to no avail.
Let’s be honest, the Bladen hardware building is arguably one of the worst-looking buildings in downtown Elizabethtown. And even without a tree in front, it’s huge awning barely misses the town banner that hangs from the lightpost. Not to mention how terribly old the overhang is.
And here’s the kicker that just has us amazed with Melvin’s continued stubbornness: The town has offered a grant program up to $2,000 to anyone — including Melvin — who wants to put up a new awning. That means Melvin could have a new awning of his choice put up and paid for by the town … or give the town permission to do it themselves if he chose.
Instead, Melvin has turned his nose up at the chance to improve his building at no cost and come into compliance with the town ordinance.
That should make Bladen Hardware owners, other business owners who did change their awnings AND town officials angry enough to do something about it. This is Elizabethtown, not Melvinville.