Local ABC Board Runs Amok in Wilmington

Compared to most folks contributing to this site, I'm a policy rookie, but here's an event that has statewide implications.

Here in Wilmington, the state run Alcohol Beverage Control has a retail store and distribution center on 17th St. between Castle and Church Streets.  This is a lower income area most out-of-towners only know as they drive through the Oleander St. corridor on the way to the beach.

Earlier this year, our local ABC board (three seated individuals and a supervisor) quietly started buying up the entire block around their facility to the ultimate tab of over $2,400,000.00, a figure the board members themselves contend is twice market value at the time (and probably more now).  On the physical block were three zoned commercial structures and ten single family homes dating from the early 20th century, examples of what Preservation North Carolina calls "vernacular housing".  These houses are currently zoned residential. 

 Historic Wilmington Foundation and others have been pursuing a Historic District designation for this neighborhood for over two years, and that designation is near becoming a reality.  While the structures in the area are not mansions nor public 19th century monuments, they do represent 80 to 100 year old houses from a previous era that are a contributing part of the historic fabric. As many of the larger building in our area have been preserved (and some tragically levelled), we are now looking to expand the scope of preservation to the more simple participating structures.

 Earlier in the summer, the ABC Board applied for demolition permits to level all thirteen existing buildings despite the current residential zoning. Their intent was to create a larger distribution facility and parking on the land.  No attempt was made to contact the citizens in the area, elected officials, or the like regarding this impactful "growth".  In addition, the ABC allowed the purchased properties to remain open and unsecured to invite vandalism and theft, thereby pursuing their projected demolition by neglect, I suppose their thinking being that they would get permits faster if the dwellings were dilapidated.

Historic Wilmington and others made multiple gestures to the ABC Board in attempts to save the houses. None was heeded.  When a request was made for design plans and ideas for the new ABC structures, none was forthcoming.  When the question of nondisclosed use of public tax payer generated moneys was brought up, the ABC stated that they are exempt from any disclosure as they are an income generating entity outside general transparency guidlines.

Within the last two weeks, all structures on the physical block have been destroyed.  They are gone.  A few days later, the ABC Board pulled their permit request to rezone the block from residential to commercial due many folks think to public outcry and a very pointed Wilmington Star-News Op-ed piece blasting the ABC Board members by name.  The board did not, however, pull the request until after all the houses were eviscerated.

While the houses are gone, this incident has been a rallying issue for downtown Wilmington.  Lawn signs saying Stop the Expansion! dot the nearby neighborhood and adjoining areas as well. 

We can't save these buildings, but we can raise the bar on what is and what is not acceptable conduct by appointed officials, elected officials, and developers.  Preservationists and builders can work together to avoid runaway growth in older neighborhoods.  I have no interest in seeing Wilmington have Myrtle Beach type high rises where older building once stood.  Our town has numerous talented architectural and design professionals who are on board with responsible growth, infill, and rehab.  Let's us them.


More political shenanigans from the coast

As a resident of the Cape Fear area, seems nothing can surprise.  Assemblyman in jail, sheriff indicted, ABC board buying real estate with public funds without any public disclosure or oversight, rampant municipally approved building in "protected" wetlands areas.  But a TV spot last night beat all as far as I'm concerned.

I've supported Julia Boseman and have voted for her. I think she's an effective voice in Raleigh for our area and the state as a whole, sensitive to concerns of both Old and New Wilmington.  Shucks, her people even wrote me a letter when there was an article about my business in the paper.   My feeling has always been that people's lives are their business, and they should be entitled to live those lives as they desire as long as they don't impact negatively or injure others in the process. But, if you decide to enter the public arena through government employment on politics on any level, then your conduct immediately goes under scrutiny that has to be at least acknowledged.

As most of you know, some untoward disclosures about Ms. Boseman have come to light in recent weeks.   A foreclosure on a jointly owned property, admission of pot smoking in the recent past, custody fights over an adopted son with a previous partner, even a disclosed public "lip lock" at a very public NASCAR event. 

Ms. Boseman is currently airing a thirty second tv spot where she implies much of the impetus for her recent bad PR stems from her fighting for what's right for her son, just as you or I would.  In addition, the commercial has the unique feel of slick production values only attainable with financial resources from outside the Cape Fear area.  Mere words can't express the depth of my disappointment for her lack of class, culpability, or even sense of what is really happening.

I consider myself to be pretty "alternate lifestyle tolerant", but I can't stomach a progressively minded politician falling into the same muck that makes most other elected officials so unsavory.  Get your life together, pay your bills, but don't wave the flag of family values as a crass attempt to regain public support.  I never felt Julia would loose my vote, but I'm feeling pretty disappointed in one elected official that I thought had some good ideas and was effective in carrying them out.


J.M. Thompson Back to the Beach

For us folks in Wilmington, the tug-o-war over construction of a functional convention center has been putting people to sleep for years while those attending events with more than a few dozen others at the current facility spend useless minutes, gas, and patience trying to park and dodge comunity college students.

We were suddenly awakened a few weeks ago when Wilmington city officials worked through a pending law suit, political fallout, and general malaise to inform us that yes, Wilmington was going to break ground on a new convention center after over a decade of discussion, pricey hired consultants, and general empty rhetoric. 

That's the good news.  The bad news is that city chose Raleigh based builder J.M. Thompson to complete the project; this the same outfit that went over budget $1,000,000 on the recently completed New Hanover County jail, charged the county thousands to rent basic equipment such as copiers and computers, and took twice as long to complete the job as scheduled.  Seems to me to be a bit boneheaded to hire an out of town builder that has a poor track record in your area, especially when a local builder was hired to help complete their last disaster.

As stated in the Wilmington Star-News, our city manager (hired after the previous manager was fired in a male ego hissyfit orchestrated by a former mayor) cited the decades of time that Thompson had been in business as an indication that they would perform well with the convention center contract.  I guess he's never been to jail, or the new jail, anyway.

Wilmington needs a space for professionals to gather, and let's just hope that this choice doesn't make the process take even longer and cost even more. It seems our town is getting a statewide reputation for bad municipal decisions, unethical elected officials, non-existent attention to infrastructure, and development influenced government.  If we're not careful, Myrtle Beach may come a lot closer than an hour away.