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Op-Ed: Focus Should Be on Solutions to Area’s Problems

By Dennis Mitchell

Over the last few weeks in our community, people have been embroiled in a debate over whether or not to keep the current policy of allowing no more than 3 unrelated people to live in a single-family home. After meeting with groups and individuals to hear their arguments surrounding the rule, I realized there was an important piece missing from the dialogue: a focus on the true issues in the university area neighborhood — crime, parking and neighborhood deterioration.

The university area can and should be a safe environment for professionals, students and homeowners to live, work and play. Each of these groups’ needs must shape how we go forward with creating policy for the area.

Data on crime, parking issues and continued neighborhood deterioration shows the long-standing rule of 3 has not effectively curbed those problems, at least on its own. The real debate should be focused on how we can improve crime, parking and neighborhood deterioration, not whether we should keep a policy in place.

To transform the university area back into a safe and beautiful community, I propose the creation of a Neighborhood Preservation Zone, encompassing the entire Tar River-university neighborhood area (TRUNA). Creating a crime-free rental program, regulating all on-street parking, and better defining the occupancy code, all detailed below, will allow us to focus on improving the area’s problems.

Crime-free rental housing program, requiring:

— a privilege license or special use permit to rent property.

— a local property manager responsible for operation and maintenance of each licensed property.

— local property manager’s attendance at a city-approved crime-free rental housing training.

— initial inspection, and inspection every two years, to ensure compliance with the maintenance code, to be written by city staff with collaboration from the Neighborhood Advisory Board, Property Managers Association and local realtors.

The crime-free rental housing program would be enforced through daily fines for landlords not adhering to the standards, with revocation of the privilege license for outstanding or repeat offenders.

Strict on-street parking rules:

— Create resident-only parking zones in densely populated areas where streets are narrow.

— Issue permits for commuter zones. 

— Allow for a small amount of visitor parking, where feasible.

Occupancy rules:

— No more than 3 unrelated individuals can reside in a single-family home.

— An administrative exception can be given for a fourth unrelated resident when  there are at least 4 original bedrooms in a house, according to tax records IF

          — the house meets a minimum square foot requirement to be determined by input from Neighborhood Advisory Board, Property Managers Association and local realtors AND

          — has at least two full and functional bathrooms AND

          — has on-site parking covering no more than 30% of the front and 30% of the back yards AND

          — meets efficiency standards, to be written by Public Works and the Environmental Advisory Board, within a year of administrative exception.

Already one of our city’s few communities fully served by greenways, sidewalks, parks, cultural outlets and shopping within walking distance, TRUNA could be further developed by adding several small neighborhood parks to encourage families to settle in the area. A small whole foods or natural food store and coffee house within the neighborhood would create a walkable community atmosphere.

The creation of the city’s first Neighborhood Preservation Zone will ensure the sustainability and viability of the area. This is only a starting point and can only work if landlords and investors are strictly held accountable through high fines and loss of ability to rent for not adhering to principles of the zone.  My plan puts neighborhoods and homeowners first while recognizing the importance of providing safe, first class rental properties for students and professionals. It lays the framework to achieve decreased crime, reduce parking issues and curb further deterioration of the neighborhood.

As always, feel free to email me suggestions or questions at

Dennis Mitchell is the at-large representative on the Greenville City Council.

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Responses (6)

  1. Hugh Cox says:

    I commend Council Member Mitchell for his op-ed showing openness and thoughtful public service on the issue of “rule of three.”
    It is difficult to reconcile Mr. Mitchell’s open approach to this issue with his previous vote to ignore advanced public notice of city council agenda items. We must give Mr. Mitchell the benefit of the doubt that he will not exercise sudden “ambush” voting on unannounced issues before the city council. As long as Mr. Mitchell remains supportive of we-can-vote-on-anything-anytime, he will remain perplexing and suspect. I hope this op-ed is a continuation of Mr. Mitchell’s transparent public leadership.

    There may be serious legal issues with Mr. Mitchell’s approach to the “rule of three” applied to only one neighborhood. I will pose these questions to the City Attorney or other legal experts:

    (1) Can the City require a landlord to hire a “local property manager”? The definitions required for such a code change and enforcement may be expensive and may lead to a quagmire of City litigation.

    (2) Can the City require a rental permit for dwellings in only one neighborhood?

    (3) Is it not better and cheaper to retain the “rule of three” so that citizens can report violations to city officials or litigate the matter themselves in civil court. Mr. Mitchell’s alternative may require additional costs to the City to establish such an enforcement agency.

    I respectfully urge Mr. Mitchell to reconsider and support the “rule of three.”

    • Dennis Mitchell says:

      I share all of your concerns Mr. Cox relating to the legality and look forward to seeing our City Attorney’s stance on them. I do believe with a special overlay district but we will see. As to your other remarks relating to your urban legend of my voting on unannounced issues before the city council, can you give one example when this has happened? If not please retract you statement as it is misleading.

      • Hugh Cox says:

        No retraction is needed. See the City Council video of March 5, 2012 at “New Business”, item 21 captioned, “Amendment of Policy on Mayor and Council Members Adding an Agenda Item” at where Mr. Mitchell voted based on a principle of “the majority rules.” That vote clearly established that the new City Council reserved the right to vote-on-anything-anytime without public notice. Mr. Mercer moved to inform the public of agenda items prior to council meetings. The motion was denied and Mr. Mitchell voted against the Mercer motion.

        I wonder if Mr. Mitchell voted to raise each council member’s salary without public notice. That will take more research.

  2. Jackie Wyman says:

    Well said, Mr. Mitchell.

  3. Mary Louise Rothschild says:

    I am please to see the thoughtfulness put into Mr. Mitchell’s plan. This is a true move forward of offering other options to the issue. Yes you can have some of these restrictions and permits. I came from a community that had a large university in our city limits. We used these similar measures to help improve the conditions of the area with success. Glad to see, I hope this is true, that Mr. Mitchell did some homework on the topic.

  4. kenneth waldron says:

    What about an unregulated family of five related people, two of whom are criminals? The city should have jurisdiction over common areas like streets and sidewalks. Period. Private property rights should be given more respect than this. This is a bureaucratic nightmare.

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