The best decision made by City Council on Monday was probably a no decision.
The council debated, sometimes heatedly but mostly confusedly, a businessman’s request for a conditional-use permit that would have allowed him to put a thrift shop in South Lumberton.
John Cantey, the Precinct 5 representative who has taken on the cape of crime-fighter, led the prosecution, saying that the permit, if approved, could clear a path for loitering, drug-dealing and violence in an area of town that is already overwhelmed by loitering, drug-dealing and violence. The implication was that the thrift shop would be no more than a front for something else, something sinister.
Cantey provided fellow council members a petition with signatures of approximately 150 people whom he says oppose a thrift shop at 3150 Martin Luther King Drive.
The problem is, Cantey represents Precinct 5 and the thrift shop is in Precinct 6, which is represented by Robert Jones. Additionally, many of the signatures were apparently those of residents who don’t live in Precinct 6.
Or is that a problem?
Crime doesn’t respect a precinct line, so what happens in Precinct 6 not only affects residents there, but in adjoining precincts — and, by extension, all of those who call Lumberton home.
We should add that as confused as council was on the matter, it would be easy to conclude that residents are also poorly informed, and could be easily swayed into signing a petition opposing the thrift shop based on little more than a request for a signature or a short one-sided conversation.
Jones didn’t do near as much talking as did Cantey on Monday, but he did offer that he had not heard similar concerns about the proposed thrift shop from Precinct 6 residents.
Then there is the not-so-little matter of the law, which is written for a reason. City Attorney Thomas Powers reminded the council that it can’t deny a permit on a whim, that any denial must be based on ordinances that are in black in white in the city’s Land Use Plan.
And finally, the petitioner must be treated fairly. Everyone has a right to earn a living, and of all the things that are needed in South Lumberton, viable businesses with local ownership are near the top of the list. A genuine thrift shop could meet needs of residents who don’t have a lot of money to spend for clothes and other necessities.
In the end, there was no end. The City Council sent the matter back to the Planning Board for it to reboot the process and make a recommendation so that a more-informed council can make a call. We are less interested in the council’s final decision regarding the permit request than we are in knowing that the process has been thoughtful and deliberate as opposed to mindless and hurried.