Chapel Hill mayor: Prosecute vandals

Staff WriterJune 22, 2011 

— Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Tuesday that the town needs to fully prosecute the people who vandalized the Greenbridge condominium project to send them a message that their behavior will not be tolerated.

No group has claimed responsibility for the protest or damage to the Greenbridge lobby. Infoshop News and other political websites described some of Saturday's protesters asanarchists.

A photo on several of the websites shows Greenbridge protesters holding a red banner that reads "Total War on Gentrification" with the letter "A" inside a circle, an anarchist symbol.

Kleinschmidt said anarchists come with the territory in a college town, where people tend to tolerate a wide range of beliefs.

"I think there's an appropriate limit to that tolerance," he said. "We need to prosecute this kind of behavior to send a message this is intolerable."

Chapel Hill police arrested three people Saturday but say most of a group of about 20 people inside the downtown high-rise ran out a side door before they could be stopped.

"We are reviewing video footage from the lobby right now," Lt. Kevin Gunter said Tuesday. "Many of the individuals had masks or something covering their faces, so it may be difficult."

The suspects - Brian Dingle dine, 37, of Chapel Hill; Karoline Knable, 26, of Durham; and Kyle Whisenant, 27, of Greensboro - have each been charged with felony rioting and misdemeanor property damage. Two declined to speak with a reporter after a court appearance Monday; the third left too quickly to be asked.

The protesters crossed a line when they entered the Greenbridge building, spraying Silly String foam, breaking furniture and blocking elevators, Kleinschmidt said.

"At the end of the day, they invaded people's homes," the mayor said. "I would imagine in a reasonable person this would invoke a large amount of fear."

Total damage was estimated at $3,400, including $2,000 damage to a tile floor and $1,000 damage to artwork knocked off the wall, according to police reports.

Police Chief Chris Blue said the behavior was unusual for Chapel Hill.

"I think it was scary behavior, certainly upsetting for the staff who were understandably surprised and shocked when a mob descended on the lobby," Blue said.

Greenbridge, a $56 million pair of seven- and 10-story buildings on West Rosemary Street, has received acclaim for its special heat pumps, green roofs and other features that cut its energy consumption to half that of similar-size buildings.

Critics say the project is speeding gentrification in the historically black, working-class Northside neighborhood across the street. Census data, however, shows Northside has been losing black residents for decades. The Town Council adopted a temporary building moratorium Tuesday night to try to slow the spread of student rentals there.

“Greenbridge is a convenient scapegoat for what had already occurred in the west end of Chapel Hill decades earlier,” Greenbridge partner Tim Toben said Tuesday.

Northside homes were purchased as investment properties and rented to students in the 1970s; by 2001, a study showed the neighborhood was already 71 percent "gentrified," primarily with student rentals, he said.

“The incident that occurred last Saturday was no peaceful protest,” Toben said. “I am all for freedom of speech and peaceful protest. They are rights that I also exercise. The behavior of the anarchists is unlawful and based on unfounded assumptions.”

mark.schultz@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2003

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