In America, we’re not supposed to let the government pick winners and losers; that’s what the free market is supposed to be for, or so I was taught. Business moratoria are such a serious business that the state of North Carolina imposes very strict regulations on how, when, and why a municipality can ban, even temporarily, any otherwise legal business. Last December, our board of commissioners imposed a 120 days moratorium on any new ‘electronic gaming establishments’ in Ramseur.
I really don’t care about electronic gaming places one way or the other. I do think they send most of the money they collect out of our community, and that’s not ideal, and if they are breaking the law, then shut’em down, but if Raleigh says they’re legal, I thought the American way was to let the market decide whether they survive or not.
Here is a link to the relevant statute: § 160D-107. Moratoria.
The statute says “local governments may adopt temporary moratoria on any development approval required by law, except for the purpose of developing and adopting new or amended plans or development regulations governing residential uses. The duration of any moratorium shall be reasonable in light of the specific conditions that warrant imposition of the moratorium and may not exceed the period of time necessary to correct, modify, or resolve such conditions.
Except in cases of imminent and substantial threat to public health or safety, before adopting a development regulation imposing a development moratorium the governing board shall hold a legislative hearing.
Moratorium does not apply to any project for which a valid building permit [has been] issued, to any project for which a special use permit application has been accepted as complete, to development set forth in a site-specific vesting plan [already] approved, to development for which substantial expenditures have already been made in good-faith reliance on a prior valid development approval, or to preliminary or final subdivision plats that have been accepted for review by the local government prior to the call for a hearing to adopt the moratorium.
Required Statements. – Any development regulation establishing a development moratorium must include, at the time of adoption, each of the following:
(1) A statement of the problems or conditions necessitating the moratorium and what courses of action, alternative to a moratorium, were considered by the local government and why those alternative courses of action were not deemed adequate.
(2) A statement of the development approvals subject to the moratorium and how a moratorium on those approvals will address the problems or conditions leading to imposition of the moratorium.
(3) A date for termination of the moratorium and a statement setting forth why that duration is reasonably necessary to address the problems or conditions leading to imposition of the moratorium.
(4) A statement of the actions, and the schedule for those actions, proposed to be taken by the local government during the duration of the moratorium to address the problems or conditions leading to imposition of the moratorium.
No moratorium may be subsequently renewed or extended for any additional period unless the local government has taken all reasonable and feasible steps proposed to be taken in its ordinance establishing the moratorium to address the problems or conditions leading to imposition of the moratorium and unless new facts and conditions warrant an extension.
Any person aggrieved by the imposition of a moratorium on development approvals required by law may apply to the General Court of Justice for an order enjoining the enforcement of the moratorium.
That’s a lot to keep track of, and I don’t think our board made much of an effort to meet all those requirements.
The commissioners held a mandatory legislative hearing that only one person seemed to care anything about, and he didn’t care much because he left before it ended. It was a very short hearing. Then, during the regular meeting that followed, Commissioner Parrish moved to impose a 120 days moratorium so our planning board – chaired by someone who lives in Greensboro – and our police department can “work on” our ordinances and/or figure out what occupied piece of real estate in town they can re-zone for ‘adult’ businesses. That way if anyone comes to town looking for a place to open an electronic game room, a gentlemen’s club, a bar, or any legal ‘adult’ business, the only parcel of land zoned for that use will already be occupied by a house, a lube shop, a grocery store, or maybe even a church; any developed real estate that won’t likely become unoccupied in the near future will do.
Does this sound ridiculous yet?
When imposing an economic moratorium a governing board must state what issues made the moratorium necessary; how it will address those problems; issue a statement addressing any pending zoning permits, special use permits, variances, etc. that will be subject to the moratorium; state how a moratorium on those ventures will address the stated issues; set an end date for the moratorium; say why it’s going to take that long; and produce a schedule of specific actions that will be taken during the moratorium.
I watched an elected Ramseur commissioner suggest, in a recorded public meeting, how to keep legal businesses out of our town, but if a business is legal and operating within the law that’s a really questionable thing for our government to be doing. I felt dirty after watching that video; like I needed to bathe. I thought chamber of commerce people were supposed to encourage business growth in a town, not tell them to stay away.
During the discussion, the commissioner spoke of police officers “going out there,” and “warning them about certain situations”. Please tell us, commissioner, who is “them,” where are they, and what situations were you talking about. Give us details. Don’t roll up in our town hall and impose restrictions on the local economy without a stack of evidence to support your actions. Does the business in question have a name we might recognize? Is it located at an address we could find on a map? Are there police reports of actual incidents at that place of business that citizens could request and read?
I can’t speak for any other taxpayers in Ramseur, but I get really tired of all the fearmongering I hear coming from that seat on our board, used as excuses to spend more money or restrict commerce. A simple statement like, “On (date) patrolman X responded to a call about Y at 123 Sesame Street about activity Z and took actions A, B, or C,” and a police report or three to back it up would go a long way towards helping everyone understand from what or whom you want to protect us.
If whatever is going on wherever it’s happening is so bad that it merits this kind of heavy-handed interference in the local economy – a moratorium on a legal business type – the board of commissioners and its planning board are both failing, because this isn’t the first moratorium that I can recall. We keep doing this again and again, like some bad remake of the movie, Groundhog Day, and there’s no excuse. As commissioners, this is your job, and in my opinion, you have all failed. If conditions somewhere are so bad that we need to take this kind of drastic action, we need to be provided with concrete facts, not vague fearmongering about bad elements and unspecified problems.
An assertion was also made that neighboring business owners have complained about a lack of parking for their customers. That’s a fair complaint, but it sounds like a problem caused by inadequate zoning regulations in the past, which allowed commercial development without adequate parking. I suspect the properties in question were developed long ago, maybe even before Ramseur had zoning ordinances. Perhaps we should ask that guy from Greensboro about it since he’s been meddling in our local government for decades.
Commissioner Parrish stated that problems “come around those businesses,” and that, in turn, leads to increased call volume for the police department and strains the budget. He further stated that the imposition of this moratorium “gives us time to work on our ordinances,” and “provide safety to our community.” A moratorium also “gives us time (120 days) to work on our ordinances”.
Would these be the same ordinances that we paid a consultant thousands of dollars to help us update a couple of years ago to meet the new chapter 160D mandates? The same ordinances we now need to spend more money paying yet another consultant to review? The same ordinances that non-residents of Ramseur get to vote on now?
Exactly what are the “problems that come around those businesses.”?
Someone on the board must have asked that question because on the video members of the police department can be heard telling the board members about how a “bad element” follows these businesses, and how the patrons of these establishments often lose all their money and then break into nearby homes or businesses to steal more money to gamble.
I see headlines about people getting shot at nightclubs and bars, and maybe even at these gaming businesses too, somewhere, just like you do, but if people in Ramseur were being robbed by disgruntled fish skill players I think we’d all know about it. Show me concrete evidence of a crime wave like this in our community and I’ll be the first in line to look for ways to address it.
As for the commissioner’s statement that electronic gaming establishments cause an unmanageable increase in police calls and strain the budget; no, I’m sorry, you don’t get to tell us that more calls to 911 help justify increased funding for our police department, and then tell us that more calls strain your department or our budget. I mean no disrespect to our police officers. They have a very stressful, often dangerous job to do and limited funds to do it with, but you can’t have it both ways.
Worst of all was the bit at the end where the commissioner and the attorney sat there passing judgment on people who make a living letting other people waste money on electronic games. The commissioner actually sat there, in a recorded public meeting, and explained how a local government can re-zone any given property to keep otherwise legal businesses out of Ramseur. The recording doesn’t lie, and the scheme described would generate more paperwork and expensive permitting processes that, for now, only a paid consultant can walk our planning board through.
This moratorium was a bad idea and I’m having a hard time understanding how the statutory statements read into the record did anything constructive for our town, let alone how all of this doesn’t leave us vulnerable to expensive legal action from any competent land development attorney.