Happy New Year.

             I’m sure that’s the first time I’ve written that phrase without the usual and somewhat cliched exclamation point.  New Year’s Eve celebrations have a sense of insincerity about them anyway.  Mildly fake revelry.  A feeling that we’re required to stay awake two hours past normal bedtime although we’re really not sure why.

             Today I just want to ease open the door to 2010, pause quietly as I glance back at the worst economic year in my lifetime, and step unnoticed into the new year.

             That quick, backward glance is not pretty.  It provides no reason to linger unless you’re the driver who rubbernecks at highway carnage. 

             This year we were reminded that a capitalist economy has contractions, but the tidal ebb was different this time because the root causes did not seem to be part of the natural order of things.  There was a feeling that those who controlled our banks and investment houses – folks who should have been on “our” team – betrayed us. 

             The aftermath left us bewildered and angry.  Bank failures.  Layoffs.  Personal and corporate bankruptcies.  Depleted retirement funds and crippled university endowments.

             Civil discourse was rare as the pundit class, followed by legions of letter-to-the-editor writers, flooded the streets. Republicans blamed Clinton and developed apoplexy at the Democratic spending spree that was supposed to right our ship.  Democrats viciously accused the Republicans who controlled all three branches of government for most of the preceding eight years. 

             If there ever was a year when the center did not hold, when the falcon broke from his master’s perch and W.B. Yeats’ beast slouched towards Bethlehem to be born, this was that year.

             We scoff at folks who make victimhood their walking screen saver, yet “victim” seems to be an appropriate adjective to capture the flavor of a year when millions of people who didn’t deserve what happened to them had to suffer through a crisis that thousands of Wharton grads and Harvard MBAs did not foresee, and, to a great extent, either caused or negligently allowed to happen, depending upon their employment.

             Last night we shared New Year’s Eve with several friends, including one of the nicest guys I know who was informed in early December that his large law firm was downsizing again. His last day in the office was yesterday, but his mortgage and college tuition payments still come due.  In my perfect world, brains, kindness, honest dealings and a great work ethic should not be rewarded with a pink slip.

             The recession that we label “2009” really started in 2008 and will continue into 2010.  The date change makes a difference only to the extent that the economy is driven by the human psyche.  Our social myth – and a myth with great power – is that January 1 is more than just another day.  It’s a day we set aside for hope.  It’s an opportunity for a new start.  It’s that one moment on the calendar when we feel that our willpower can control our destiny.

             So today, January 1, step with me into 2010.  If you come through the door with me the brass section won’t play and the champagne won’t flow, but I can promise that the sun will come up, and if we wait awhile we’ll soon hear chirping birds.

             [To read previous blog posts, simply continue to scroll down or click on a category of interest in the right hand column]

            This week the Court of Appeals decided in Union Land Owners Association, et. al. v. Union County that the North Carolina zoning and subdivision statutes did not authorize Union County to adopt an APFO (adequate public facilities ordinance) to pay for schools. 

The Background

            Union County is a hotbed of growth.  Residential growth.  Risking some over generalization, Union County is a bedroom community for folks who work in Charlotte.  Charlotte has the jobs.  Union County provides the homes.  And residential growth doesn’t pay for schools and infrastructure as well as industrial and commercial uses.

            Union County asked the General Assembly on three occasions for authority to impose school impact fees.  It was turned down each time.  Our General Assembly has a strong bias against impact fees and anything that resembles them.

            Union County wanted to shift some of its school facility obligations to developers.  Education, after all, is expensive.  Although public schools are governed by a statewide curriculum and staffed by teachers on state salary, the school facilities themselves, from classroom chalkboards to basketball backboards, are paid for at the county level.

Facts of the Case

            Union County hired an out-of-state law firm to draft an APFO ordinance that would comply with state statutes while not running afoul of Durham Land Owners v. County of Durham, a 2006 case which held that Durham County could not shift the financial responsibility of financing schools to developers through an “impact fee.”  The Durham ordinance required every developer to pay if it wanted to play.

            The Union County Ordinance was different.  It provided a formula for determining a development’s impact on the school system.  If school capacity was determined to become overburdened by a development proposal, then approval could be 1) denied  2) deferred or 3) subject to reduced density, construction of school facilities by the developer, or payment of a “voluntary mitigation payment.”

The Decision

            The Court held that the General Assembly has never given Union County (or any county) express or implied authority to impose an APFO.  The duty to provide school facilities is foremost “a duty of the County itself.” It emphasized its point, saying “Defendant (Union County) may not use the APFO to obtain indirectly the payment of what amounts to an impact fee given that defendant lacks authority to impose school impact fees directly.”

Legal Analysis and Commentary

            a)   Legal Analysis

            Union County claimed three sources of authority for imposing an APFO: general police powers, zoning statutes and subdivision statutes.  The Court quickly dismissed general police powers as a source of authority, reasoning that the regulation of real estate is limited to the zoning and subdivision statutes.

            The Court dismissed the subdivision statutes, noting in broad terms that those statutes contain no express authority to require developers to donate money or land for schools.

            The powers inherent in the zoning statutes were analyzed through an in pari materia consideration (combined reading) of sections 153A-340 (the “powers” statute) and 153A-341 (the “purposes” statute).  Although Section 341 provided for facilitation of schools as one of many purposes for enabling counties to zone land, counties are nonetheless limited to the powers enumerated in Section 340 to achieve that goal, and none of those powers expressly or impliedly allows an APFO.

            b)   Legal Commentary          

            This decision is a clear punt to the General Assembly.  The real message is that impact fees and their first and second cousins are matters of state policy to be decided by statute, not the courts. If the General Assembly wants to provide for them, it needs to do so without ambiguity.  Unlike many opinions, the Court signaled its holding in the first sentence of the second paragraph, noting that Union had sought permission in 1998, 2000 and 2005 to impose school impact fees, and the General Assembly refused.

            The Court’s decision is not without flaws, the main one being that it focused exclusively on the county’s authority to impose a Voluntary Mitigation Payment and ignored the rest of the ordinance.  Union County [not to mention the rest of the state] still does not know if it can consider school capacity when making zoning decisions as long as no fees are involved.

            If the “take away” point is that school capacity cannot be considered at all (with or without fees involved) when making zoning and subdivision decisions, then we have a conflict with a previous case, Tate Terrace v. Currituck County.  Tate Terrace was a special use permit case, but the Court seems to have allowed consideration of school capacity.  There is also a general conflict with decades of legal opinions and treatises concluding that local governments are essentially unbridled in the factors they may consider when making legislative zoning decisions.  There are no North Carolina cases that limit a board’s legislative zoning decision to the enumerated powers in 153A-340.

            Another underlying legal issue is the amount of flexibility the General Assembly is willing to cede to local governments to become local fiefdoms operating under their own sovereign local powers.  This type of “home rule” has gained little traction in North Carolina.

            I predict that Union County will petition the North Carolina Supreme Court to grant review. However, the Supreme Court may refuse to hear the case. When a Court of Appeals decision is unanimous, the high court may grant appeal in its discretion, and one of the allowable reasons is that the decision is a matter of significant public importance.

             I further predict that the decision will not be overturned. One of two things will happen.  The fairly conservative N.C. Supreme Court will deny appeal outright and allow the matter to be decided by elected representatives, or it will grant review and uphold the decision, sending the same message back to the General Assembly: tell the courts what you want.  We won’t try to read your minds on this issue.  On other issues, yes, but not on this one.

Political Analysis and Commentary

            Union County’s situation is not unique.  Residential growth often occurs in hotspots where the influx taxes or outstrips the infrastructure that supports it.  Practically every one of these hotspots claims there’s a study somewhere placing them in the top ten growth markets in the country.

            When growth outstrips resources or infrastructure, local governments can do one of three things.  They can close the door, narrow the door, or upgrade and expand services and infrastructure.

            One of the problems with APFOs is that they are based on the faulty premise that subdivision developments create population growth and housing demand.  With the exception of destination retirement communities, new subdivisions don’t generate housing demand.  They meet it.

            Housing demand primarily is a function of two things: organic population growth (i.e. mom and dad have children) and jobs.  Nobody from Ohio has ever come to North Carolina just because they especially liked one of our new subdivisions.  But North Carolina is full of folks from Ohio and New York and Pennsylvania and West Virginia who came here looking for jobs.

            This raises an interesting irony.  Some counties spend millions of dollars in incentives to lure new companies that will create jobs and expand the tax base so that infrastructure such as schools can be more easily paid for.  But instead of using the added tax base to build more schools to meet the expanding population that came for the jobs, these same counties are tempted to restrict the ensuing population growth to protect existing school budgets.

            Counties like Union that receive spillover growth from counties where the jobs are created are in a bind.  They have the burden but not the benefit of job growth. If they cannot adequately balance their budgets to include new and expanded schools, then perhaps closing the door to new subdivisions until the tax base expands is the best option.

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View of Newman Machine Works across Fulton Street. This view and use doesn't seem to threaten College Hill residents.

Yesterday’s banner headline in the Greensboro News & Record was slightly sensational but it grabbed your attention as it proclaimed in 76 point type that “College Hill will fight housing for students.” 

Although some parts of it are seedy, College Hill is, for the most part, a quaint neighborhood adjacent to UNC-G.  It has several homes dating from the early 20th century, yards with large oak trees, and all the charm of a community where people walk and ride bikes. 

Rezoning notice posted beside chain link fence with barbed wire. "Beware of dog" sign is just off frame.

But, according to the article, 76% of the homes and multi-unit structures are rental properties, a statistic that surprised me.  As in all college and university towns, investors buy properties to rent to students.  The 24% who own their homes have chosen this neighborhood knowing that it was adjacent to an established and growing university.  They also knew that the southern part of the neighborhood contained industrial uses that were, to use nontechnical but understandable terms, ugly and nasty.

Another view of the current use that sits adjacent to College Hill residents. How successful would a rezoning be that proposed something that looked like this?

A company from Ohio has proposed redeveloping the Newman Machine Company site (and some other properties) for a ten-acre student residential community, cleaning up decades of environmental contamination in the process.

Neighbors are appalled and shocked that a large-scale university development could replace an ugly, industrial part of the neighborhood that is highly unlikely to be redeveloped for anything but university use.

As with most zoning cases, the interesting comparisons are with scenarios that do not exist.  What if, for example, this ten acre site were completely undeveloped and existing residents were given a choice: the existing, ugly, environmentally contaminated Newman Machine Company site or a new, brick, nicely landscaped residential housing development for students.   Most residents would protest that this dichotomy is false, claiming that they would prefer a third choice instead — a residential development of a much smaller scale.

But scale raises issues of university needs and economic return to the housing developer.  Somewhere there is a pro forma that tells the developer how many housing units it needs merely to recoup its hard costs.  Anything less than that becomes a proposal for bankruptcy.  And somewhere there is a plan that outlines the university’s growth trajectories and its plans to meet them.  Third options don’t always exist.

Newman Machine Works adjacent to College Hill residences

Several dynamics are at work, the most common being a general resistance to change in the neighborhood that surrounds most rezoning requests.  As humans we don’t like change that we cannot control or envision or that alters our daily routine, especially when the change is not organic but the result of outside forces coming onto our turf.  Change by outsiders creates feelings of invasion. 

 If the university itself were building the complex, sentiments would be different.  The university is already a neighbor.  The company from Ohio is not. The end result may be identical, but when “them” becomes “us” we make different decisions about the need to gird loins for battle.

But another dynamic is resentment that the university — the very magnet that drew many people to this community for work or study or ambiance — must grow to remain strong.

Every zoning battle has its unique factors, but neighborhood resistance to growing college campuses and college life is common. 

People choose to live a few blocks from college campuses for all the obvious reasons, then resent the lights of the football stadium at night or the fraternity parties on weekends.  They love walkable access to symphonies in the university concert hall but oppose the new parking deck that the concert series necessitates.

This is little different than folks who knowingly choose to buy a home near a landfill then complain about odors, or who move to a subdivision “in the coutry,” a convenient mile from the city where their jobs and stores are located but who scream when a developer proposes another subdivision in their area to serve the town’s growing population.

UNC-Chapel Hill has had similar “town/gown” growth issues for decades and recently, in my humblest opinion, bowed too far to accommodate the competing interest groups who wanted to control the design of university growth for its new campus on long-held university property north of town.

 High Point University has, in the last five years, undergone a complete cinderella transformation, becoming one of the few growth industries in town and bringing with it a transformative creative class badly needed by a city whose  manufacturing muscles have atrophied.  But occasional neighbors shout so loudly that the city council sometimes seems to hear only the bumps and grinds that any growth would create, and the local paper has become a forum for myopic villification of one of the greatest things happening in the community. 

Although all change and all rezonings are not good, even good change is seldom comfortable.  But the alternative to change in an urban environment is stagnation.  Every city you can name that is vibrant for residents and enjoyable to visit is a city that has embraced and become excited about change.

Some places change easier than others, and diverse populations and economies make change much more difficult to manage.  But fear of change because all people aren’t happy can lead to least resistance, vanilla-flavored decisions.  Communities that stifle all but the easiest changes do so at their long term peril.

 [To read previous blog posts, simply continue to scroll down or click on a category of interest in the right hand column]

In a previous post (November 13, 2009 “Existing vs. New Home Sales — What’s the Difference?”) I explained that new home sales have broad and far-reaching effects on the market place, including everybody from the manufacturers of nails and drywall to the man who operates the track hoe laying sewer pipe.  Existing home sales, on the other hand, don’t create the same or nearly as many economic ripples.

This morning I learned of a new victim of the near-dead new housing market: pickup trucks.  While it makes sense, Ford and GMC are not manufacturers I would have thought to list among new housing’s economic beneficiaries.

In a recently posted AP story, a Las Vegas-based construction company owner decided that he would not replace his three aging Dodge Ram trucks.  This owner, of course, was randomly discovered and made into one journalist’s example of both an obvious fact and a national trend:  construction workers are a large component of the pickup truck market, and subsequent to some crunch point in 2008 a huge chunk of this demographic decided that their old trucks held just as many tool boxes and 2 x 4s as a new model and would do just fine for another year.

I’m sure the list of new housing’s beneficiaries would run into the thousands.  But when the beneficiary list becomes an after-the-battle posting of the dead and wounded, I can only read so far.

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This 195' stealth tower (disguised as a flag pole), appears shorter than the 90' billboard in the foreground.

            It depends.

             Measured height is a constant.  A 120’ telecommunications tower, as measured from its base to its top, is always 120’ tall.

             But the relevant issue presented to elected officials, neighbors and planners is not how tall the tower is measured to be but how tall the tower is perceived to be.  Perceived height is not a constant.  It varies depending upon the viewer’s distance from the tower and the relative height of other tall objects against which it is viewed comparatively.

This 195' flush mount monopole appears to be shorter than the three story apartment building in the foreground.

Take one obvious and common example. A 30 foot telephone pole (of which there are hundreds along any highway) that is fifty feet from the viewer is perceived to be much taller than a 195 foot cell tower 400 yards away.  We know the telephone pole is not taller, but this is nonetheless the landscape view to the human eye.

             Some local governments require tower companies and carriers either to float a balloon to the height of the proposed tower or to use that balloon to create photo simulations showing what the tower at that height would look like from various angles.

             A carrier’s representative that uses a photo angle from the middle of a nearby cornfield may be making a mistake.  It makes much more sense and is fairer to all concerned when the photos used for the simulations are taken so that other tall objects in the area are within the frame so that perceived height can be judged and true impact ascertained.

                       Above are photo simulations of proposed towers with other tall objects within the frame so that true comparisons can be made and the towers can properly be considered in the proposed context.

            The Greensboro News & Record has been full of front page articles this week about an alleged cancer cluster near its White Street Landfill.  The landfill was closed to household waste a few years ago due to political pressure, but has continued to accept construction and demolition debris.

            As claims of a cancer cluster circulated, another interesting fact recently surfaced.  Adjacent to the landfill is the site of former E.H. Glass Dump.

             If you oppose burial of household waste, all landfills are “dumps.”  When local media want to sensationalize a proposal to expand or create a burial option, they tend to refer to landfills as “dumps” for “trash.”  But, in fact, there is a huge difference between modern sanitary landfills and dumps.

            Humans for centuries have dug holes to dump waste.  They did it in ancient Pompeii.  Indigenous tribes have done it for eons.  This practice followed Americans well into the 20th century as cities merely dug larger and deeper holes to dump everything that was tossed from homes, offices, demolition sites and factories. 

            In the 1960s and 1970s, we began to wake up. Dumping refuse into open holes was little different than allowing factories to pipe their liquid waste directly into nearby creeks and rivers.  In fact, when it came to dumps, some of them were intentionally placed near waterways because, as many claimed, “dilution is the solution.”

            Although there were many health risks associated with open, unlined, dumps, the main problem stemmed from dumps lying between groundwater below and rainwater coming from above.  Generally described, as rain fell onto a dump, it would pass through tons and tons of leftover pizza, oil cans, paper, mom’s meatloaf, Clorox bottles, and anything and everything that found its way into the dump.  Rain water passing over and through these items absorbed what it could and carried much of it into the groundwater and nearby streams.

            In 1976, Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that, among other things, established new and stringent comprehensive standards for managing hazardous and non-hazardous waste.  Household waste would be handled by federally mandated standards implemented at the state and local government levels.

            The section of RCRA that governs modern landfill design is “Subtitle D.”  Thus, modern landfills are typically called “Subtitle D landfills.” Subtitle D requires landfills to be designed to contain all rainfall, remove the resulting “leachate,” extract the methane gases that naturally build up, monitor surrounding ground water and “cap” filled landfills so that rain water can no longer get in.

            Subtitle D landfills are simply engineered, but they work. At the bottom of the landfill is at least two feet of impermeable clay with various layers above that, including an impermeable High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) membrane. Piping structures for removing leachate are installed.  After each cell (section) of a landfill is full, the owner/operator must, essentially, create a top layer of impermeable materials that is similar to the bottom liner.

            Subtitle D opponents will focus on the drops per million gallons of water that over centuries can pass through the liner. “Perfection,” however,  is a topic for theologians.  By all strict yet reasonable standards and measures, these landfills work.  

            Yes, we should reduce the amount of waste we generate.  Yes, we should recycle more and better.  Yes, we should use existing landfills as alternative sources of energy. Yes, we should explore alternative ways to dispose of waste, especially if we can convert it to sources of energy.  But we need not fear modern, well-constructed landfills.

The lead article in yesterday’s Charlotte Observer was interesting news.  The headline read “Charlotte homes sales rebound.”

Today’s High Point Enterprise had a similar lead article: “High Point home sales show large increase for October.”

Home sales were up 20% in Charlotte and 22% in High Point.  But the story behind the story is that these sales were primarily of existing homes, and the increase was catapulted, according to the Observer, by “low interest rates, a hefty tax credit, price discounts and pent-up demand . . . .”

There’s an apple/orange distinction between existing and new home sales that is worth comment.

With existing home sales, a bank earns mortgage fees, a home inspector earns $250 per home, an appraiser earns about the same, closing attorneys slightly more, and realtors earn six percent, and that’s about it.  To some extent, measures of existing home sales are reflections of habitational musical chairs.

New home sales are different and indicate other economic factors.  New homes — generally speaking — are homes within new subdivisions.  They are rough measures of population growth which roughly reflects economic growth.  New subdivisions mean substantial payments to raw land sellers, substantial contracts extended to paving companies (which buy aggregate and asphalt), water/sewer line contractors (who purchase pipe and equipment), and builders who purchase every component of a new home, from nails to sheetrock to shingles, and who employ everybody from plumbers and electricians to the guy who swings a hammer to set a 2 x 4.  New home developments also mean hefty fees to civil engineers, traffic engineers and attorneys, each of whom employs many.

The economic multiplier effect of new home sales is much greater than it is for existing home sales. 

From a planning perspective, new home sales — again, generally speaking — reflect expansions into areas formerly raw land. They are harbingers of sprawl.  Existing home sales reflect economic stability within an urban core and stronger municipal “downtown” economies.

Both existing and new home sales suffered an upper cut to the chin a year ago when the credit markets tightened and shriveled to nothing.  The credit markets (i.e. banks that lend money) are slowly returning.  As one banker from the company-formerly-known-as-Wachovia described it to me: “it’s just going to take time before these bad loans work their way through our financial intestines.”

At the time I thought the description was unnecessarily crude.  A year later, I find it to have been more than memorable.  I find it to be apt.

Yesterday and today CNN and Fox News commentators milked two gubernatorial and one congressional race into a pundits’ dream contest for reading the political tea leaves of 2010.  They all looked at the same numbers but saw different versions of the future.

History’s lesson, though, is that this is mere entertainment.  The events that will decide the 2010 races have not yet occurred.  The issues that will create media election fodder have not yet developed.

However, this morning’s election results from cities and hamlets and villages across the state are different.  We have no need to read the local government tea leaves for 2011, and as far as I can tell, nobody has tried.  The only thing worth knowing is what voters were thinking on November 3rd, 2009.

There is one thing that ceased to be a deciding issue in 2009: growth.

Growth and development have created more momentum over the past two decades for town council pendulum swings than any other single issue.  There are many reasons for that.  Growth brings change and discomfort.  Growth creates stronger tax bases and addresses dying downtowns.  Growth incites average citizens to become publicly involved.  And growth brings with it an attendant narrative of folks with power and influence and alleged electoral corruption that voters understand.

A spot check in Charlotte, Wilmington, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham and Wnston-Salem did not reveal growth or real estate development to be anybody’s hot topic.  Again, there’s a reason: we haven’t had any.  2009 was the slowest growth year in North Carolina in recent memory.

Real estate development is one of the few issues decided almost entirely by local decision makers.  And its electoral importance is as varied as each community’s growth concerns and experiences.

This year’s issues were varied, but included efficiency, local corruption, jobs and, the tamest of all, personality. If there was a throw-the-bums-out movement it didn’t rear its head.

When banks begin to lend again and money starts to flow through the system, the real estate market will return, and with it, gowth as an issue inspiring and inciting new candidacies and motivating voters.  This year, however, was a reprieve.

This morning’s High Point Enterprise ran two front page articles side by side.  The placement and timing, I’m sure, were coincidental.  The irony, however, was stark.

The first article was yet one more update on whether local and state sources will recover incentives from Dell, the Texas-based company lured to place a distribution facility in ForsythCounty with the largest incentive package in state history.  The $300 million plus Dell incentives were layered and complex, but they were packaged merely to garner an additional 1,500 jobs.  Rather than serve as a catalyst for more jobs and create an economic panacea for a region reeling from loss of manufacturing jobs, Dell became yet one more casualty of this year’s economic debacle, announcing that it is pulling up stakes, leaving the state and abandoning over 900 jobs.

The next article ran with the headline “Thomas Built loses bid for bus contract.” 

Thomas Built Buses is a homegrown High Point company with roots dating back to the early 20th century when it was founded as the Perley A. Thomas Car Works.  Now owned by German company Daimler AG, Thomas still employs several hundred workers in High Point at various plants and locations.

The article was short and pointed.  Instead of awarding a contract to manufacture up to 900 new school buses to a highly qualified, North Carolina company, somebody in Raleigh drafted RFP specs that slanted the tables away from North Carolina jobs.  Consequently, up to 900 buses for North Carolina’s school children will be manufactured by White International Trucks in Oklahoma and shipped here.

I know nothing about the nationwide RFP other than the results. I do know, however, that such RFPs begin on the desks of 9-5 government employees in non-descript cubicles and offices whose job descriptions don’t include the protection of North Carolina jobs.  And I know that in any layered, bureaucratic organization, the degree of scrutiny of large, fine-print documents decreases as the document rises through the ranks.  Someone sitting in an office with “director of” in his or her title has theoretical influence over the final product yet — depending upon the situation — limited actual influence and often marginal interest or energy in wielding it.

Those who assemble large RFPS can always send them up the chain absolved of their own responsibility because a phalanx of “supervisor of,” “director of,” and “chief of” types must review and approve.  Those who review and approve can always hide behind the technical “experts” and quasi-titled managers below who have done the work.  After all, why would someone with a title review a thick, fine print document when they have committee meetings to attend?

Without having seen the school bus RFP, I would bet both of my tickets to this coming Saturday’s UNC-Duke football game that it would have taken very little to build in a requirement of no consequence to N.C. taxpayers or children’s safety that would have made it easier for Thomas Built Buses to bid.

So why spend hundrends of millions to lure new jobs while we casually and readily turn our backs on existing jobs?

Make whatever political points you wish about incentives and government subsidies, but it would have made better financial sense to have taken the few dollars recouped from Dell and used them to subsidize Thomas Built Buses so that Thomas could offer to manufacture the buses at much lower cost and have been more competitive in the RFP.  Instead, we use our taxpayer funds too quickly for foreign companies coming into the state instead of using them for local companies competing against large outside companies for highly lucrative state government contracts.

A permitted landfill is one of the most valuable assets anyone — private entity or government — could own.  Disposal costs, like health care costs, are permanently with us and continue to rise.  There is no industrial or retail substitute that would give a seller a higher per-square foot return than a permitted MSW landfill.

Nonetheless, the City of Greensboro closed its permitted White Street Landfill that had years of capacity remaining.

Why?

When White Street was constructed it was located in a remote area.  Over the years the city allowed developers to place subdivisions near the landfill.  The residents who moved to the landfill began to resent the odor and asked the city to protect them from the consequences of their decisions.  Many of the residents even called it “environmental racism,” in spite of the obvious and undisputed sequence of events.

Bowing to politics, the city closed White Street Landfill and began the extremely costly process of paying to ship its MSW out of county. 

In yesterday’s Greensboro News & Record there was an update on the city’s decision to allow an “open” RFP in which companies may submit any sort of proposal for handling Greensboro’s household waste. Each proposal may include a use for White Street in some manner or not. In other words, the city has established a general call for solutions.

The deadline for submission is March 2010.