Thursday, June 08, 2006

Still Fighting For Neighborhoods

Before I return to the topic of Providence – author James Howard Kunstler gave a delightful rant I hope to share – I’m turning this space over to former neighborhood activist and ex-planning commissioner Pat Dayton.

You’ve probably not heard of Pat Dayton, unless you were in Charlotte in the 1990s and paying attention to the still-notorious-in-some-circles fight over the “power center” near UNC Charlotte. In that episode, UNCC partnered with influential developer John Crosland, who wanted to build a big-box strip shopping center, which undermined the city’s plan for the University City area. Dayton, who lived in the University Place area, lobbied strongly against the Crosland Center and acquired some powerful enemies. Later that year she was appointed to the planning commission to an unexpired term. When her term ended the next year, she was not – as is routine – reappointed.

She had seen a couple of references in the May 13 Observer to Mahlon Adams. Here’s what she wrote. She called it: “A Seat At The Table.”

Mahlon Adams was mentioned twice in the May 13 Observer. “On March 8, the Mecklenburg County Commissioners voted to name the Pavilion at Freedom Park after Mahlon Adams.” And, “ ... Mrs. Adams got mad about a rezoning in 1980 and never stopped.”Mary Newsom made the second reference in a column about the billboard ordinance. She noted that Mahlon Adams (age 81) is a member of a citizens’ committee to protect the city billboard ordinance from being weakened by changes requested by the billboard industry. [Mary here: The committee is to study proposed changes. Some members prefer to protect the ordinance.] She is still working for the good of “her city.”

Who is Mahlon Adams?During the ’80s I was busy earning a living and raising a family, but I enjoyed keeping up with local politics and development through the newspaper. Every week, it seemed, there was a letter to the editor from Mahlon Adams. It was always about a zoning issue that she felt would be detrimental to neighborhoods and individual citizens. Her letters were always factual – not rampages against the system.

The public began to take notice. Politicians and developers called her a “kook” and a nuisance. Mahlon Adams was the first “neighborhood activist,” and she stood alone.

In those days you could build a house next to a field. One day a bulldozer would appear. You watched a shopping center arise out of the ground. Developers were not obligated to consult you in their planning. Mahlon was determined to change that. She applied for a seat on the Planning Commission each year for 11 years. She was rejected each year. She started writing letters to the editor – lots of letters. She quietly attended meetings of the Planning Commission. She wasn’t allowed to speak, but she was there.

“Mahlon Adams is appointed to the Planning Commission,” the Observer announced. It took 11 years, but Mahlon was ready to move the back room of politics to the front room.

I got mad about a rezoning in 1992. Because of Mahlon, I was heard. I was appointed to the Planning Commission the next year and had the privilege of working with Mahlon on neighborhood issues.

The citizens of Charlotte owe a huge debt to Mahlon Adams. Take a walk around the lake in Freedom Park, glance at the [Mahlon Adams] Pavilion, and be aware that it is gratefully dedicated to a real freedom fighter.

When I asked Pat’s permission to post her tribute to Mahlon, her reply contained this:

Mahlon is responsible for builders having to share their plans with neighborhoods. That was a significant breakthrough in exposure. It seems like a tiny thing in the scope of things, but has had impact. I was struck by the two references which showed her still fighting. I’m 77 years old, and I’m through fighting. More power to her. Thanks, Pat.


Anonymous said...

>>Mahlon is responsible for builders having to share their plans with neighborhoods>>

It is not the job of builders to do anything but build.

That is why we have elected officials to screen and monitor this process. It is the job of the PUBLIC servants to keep neighbors in the loop.

Amazing that the Newsom kooks always bash builders, but builders have no obligation whatsoever to the semi-interested public.

When you feel you are victimized by zoning changes, tear-downs, new shopping centers, box stores, etc., why do you blame builders? They are just earning a living.

Perhaps you should investigate McCrory, City Council, etc. who consistently tell you one thing and then do another in the back room.

Carol Butler said...

Hey Mary,
Just a fan. I wanted you to know how much I appreciated your article about artists and space. I'm a digital photo artist-photographer-playwright and the struggle just to be in front of anybody takes tremendous energy, money, and time. I work out of my house (because I have to) in Lake Wylie. I've recently (this year) gone to great lengths to exhibit work which I have at Theatre Charlotte, at the Manor Theatre, at a yacht club, and for the next 23 days or so at WCNC-TV's lobby. As you might surmise, it becomes hit or miss. If you happen to be at the right place at the right time with just the right person who either loves what they see or makes that harder connection (if she can do this then I bet she could do that) I want to commission her, then it becomes worthwhile. I used to be in broadcast sales and I can assure you there is a definite "problem" for artists to "afford" to even exist in a climate that seems (just an opinion) to support the independently weathly individual who can do a body of work because they're not worried about paying the mortgage and they have the gift of uninterrupted time. Yet, artists must do what they do because it's a "calling" of talent and a vehicle to express the "out of the box;" non-conformist thoughts artists apparently have. I just looked at a grant opportunity put out by the Arts and Science Council. If you're professional you can apply for a $5,000 grant, if not, you can apply for a $3,000 grant. The hoops one must jump through to fill out this ridiculously low amount that thousands (or hundreds of people) will apply for is a joke. One framed showing of 20 pieces can cost an artist (just for materials) easily $2,000. If you don't make yourself a 501C, then this is the type of help one can expect...for all practical purposes, none. Charlotte is a rich city with many people who have disposable income. I hope to suggest one day how to cultivate the tremendous talent in this area. Thanks for being a voice for the artist.
Carol Butler