This week’s City Council meeting featured a vote over a popular new development in Jackson Ward and some tax relief for nonprofits. Also, the return of Silver Persinger!
I’m sitting in the press area today between Silver Persinger and Richard Harman. It’s a little section for the press that sits slightly above Marty Jewell, Reva Trammel, and company. While waiting for the show to begin I got a chance to talk with Council TV host (yes, they have one: Mr. Harman). He is the friendly voice who welcomes you, summarizes the day’s business and wraps it all up after it’s over. He’s been in broadcasting for 55 years starting with the early days of Rock n’ Roll. He’s an interesting, funny, and nice man I’d like to tell you a lot more about sometime.
Sitting on my right is Silver. The good news is that, after taking off most of 2011, he is back on the job again. I’ve a real respect for his work ethic, not to mention his stamina. He documents almost everything on video, has a real grasp of legislation and has an opinion on most everything. Well known to all council members, Silver often speaks to several papers each meeting, including subcommittee meetings, introducing himself each time with, “Hello, I’m Silver Persinger, a citizen of Richmond.” He’s an institution and I’m glad to see him. In his “spare” time he tapes the Occupy Richmond General Assembly. Last night’s meeting he tells me went on for 4 1//2 hours. Even he seems a little bit overwhelmed by it.
I’m close enough to Marty Jewell to read his email, and I will have to watch myself. I have to make sure I don’t bust out laughing. If there is one thing Marty Jewell takes seriously, it is Marty Jewell, and I don’t want to lose my seat at the big kid’s table. This looked to be a big night for Mr. Jewell as he’s got two papers on the Agenda. One urging the City and the Police to exercise “forbearance and restraint” in regards to Occupy Richmond and another to establish a free speech park in Kanawha plaza– which would include overnight camping. Had they been on the agenda, sparks might have flown and there would have been a fuller house, but both have been continued and the gallery is mostly empty. Actually most of the papers have been continued leaving only two contentious topics: Eggleston Plaza and tax breaks for non profits. But first we have awards to give.
The first award goes to Dr. Philip James Schwarz for this long time contributions to the Slave Trail Commission. Standing up with him is former Councilwoman and current Delegate Deloris McQuinn. Also in his retinue is outgoing James River Park Director Ralph White. Cynthia Newbille presented the award. He is genuinely liked and was warmly applauded.
The second award went to Project W.A.R.M. (Wood Association of Richmond Metro) which collects wood from downed city trees, cuts, and delivers it to needy families to be used as firewood. Last year 444 deliveries were made to 62 to families. Project W.A.R.M received its award from Kathy Graziano and also received an appropriately warm round of applause.
Now for business. First up is the special use permit for what has been dubbed Eggleston Plaza. This is 31 residential units being built above 1st floor retail space. It is named for the former Eggleston Hotel that collapsed on the same site three years ago. The only issue here is the lack of parking, which is so scarce that Council has proposed requiring only 15 spaces within a quarter mile. Samuels spoke against the amended version (as did Silver) saying the area was choked for parking–which it is–with activities at the Hippodrome and Mansion 526 cars line up down the block while waiting for valet parking. Residents will tell you what a scramble it is to find parking each night. In the end the paper passed. Nobody wanted to stand in the way of this popular project. As the area grows, the parking wars won’t go away. I expect more on this later.
The second item was an ordinance giving property-owning nonprofits, such as the Byrd Theater, tax exempt status on their property. You’d think this would be a slam dunk, but not so. Chris Hilbert, Ellen Robertson, and Kathy Graziano all were concerned about the unknown cost in tax revenue (estimates ranged from $200,000 to $500,000) to the city. Jewell, Connors and others spoke of how the value of these nonprofits to the city far exceeds and loss in tax revenue. Opposition again melted and the measure passed overwhelmingly.
The citizen comment speakers were up next. Lately they have been relegated to the end of the session, which I’ll tell you takes some of the luster out of occasion. Since the session was short, they only had to wait two hours. In many cases, they don’t go on until 9 or 10 at night.
Vivek Kain urged Council to take a preemptive stand against an as yet undeclared war against Iran. He hammered the issue for exactly 3 minutes then turned and left.
Charles Willis, President of Citizens Against Crime, came to plea for some cash to continue their work. At the end, Reva Trammel promised to get it for him, personally.
I then booked out of there ahead of the Council announcements or any late surprises. So far as I know there weren’t any. Back again in two tweeks.
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