(28th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)
Thus sayeth the Gadfly: “So maybe one more post on 2 W., and then we’ll take a Thanksgiving break.”
Lots of people talked at the public hearing last night on 2 W. Market.
There were points made big and small.
And almost every point had two sides.
How to make order out of that randomness.
I wondered what I should say. We are on post #28 here. How was I going to boil all that down? Or what should I select out of all that on which to focus? (Notice how I craftily avoided ending with a preposition.)
What was the best approach to “help” Council make a decision?
My mind wandered to the front table.
How were they going to make a decision?
First of all, only 5 of 7 Council members were present for this 3hr meeting. And only 1 Council member was present at the similarly long recent Planning Commission meeting.
From questions asked, it didn’t appear to Gadfly that, except for Councilwoman Van Wirt, the Council was especially up to speed. How were they going to make sense out of all that randomness? How were the ones who missed this meeting as well as the previous one ever going to make up for what they missed? Would they be listening to audio tapes?
What I decided to do was try to offer a clearer suggestion for how to think about organizing all that random material so you could think about it more clearly and then ultimately make a decision.
A suggestion right out of my teaching playbook.
Put the purpose of the petition at the top of a page. Then make two columns, one headed “Why?” and the other “Why not?” Then go at it filling in both sides.
At the Planning Commission, Atty Preston said in sound-bite fashion the purpose of the petition was “adding an additional use to the zoning ordinance.” So put that at the top of a page.
Now, it seems to Gadfly that the next most logical question is why. “Atty Preston, why are you proposing adding an additional use to the zoning ordinance?”
And then Atty Preston would answer, “We are proposing to add an additional use to the zoning ordinance because __________________,” or “The main reason we are proposing to add an additional use to the zoning ordinance is __________________.”
Same with the opposition: “The main reason we are opposing adding an additional use to the zoning ordinance is _____________.
Gadfly would have loved to see the clarity of such succinct questions and answers.
Respectfully, Gadfly thinks Atty Preston’s presentation began off-point. At the more detailed presentation to the Planning Commission, his first major point was the text amendment v rezoning distinction. Which is “how” the additional use would be achieved. We got into the technical weeds very quickly.
So he told us “what” he was petitioning for and “how” it would be achieved but not “why” he was proposing this in the first place.
Gadfly thinks “Why?” is the first place.
Gadfly’s playing with the idea of asking the “why” and the “why not” questions and posing the answers side by side to see if that will clear the air a bit.
Gadfly said last night that this would be a tough decision for Council. There are good people and good supporters on both sides.
We must do all we can to make sure decisions are thoughtfully made.
See you after “break” on this and other Gadfly things.
2 thoughts on “Now Gadfly’s going on break (28)”
Gadfly, with all due respect, I disagree with part of what you are saying about the complexity of this issue. Specifically, you keep stating that “There are good people and good supporters on both sides.” Why would this be a criterion for evaluating whether or not we should change our zoning ordinance? This is a matter of law and planning. The minute it becomes about the quality of the people involved (i.e. how good they are), then we are opening a whole can of worms. What counts in determining if someone is a good person? Is someone good because they have complied with existing laws and been good community members? How do we know if that person is better than another good community member, say someone who is a fine upstanding citizen, but does make large donations to the city? If the person who makes donations to the city is “better,” then does one have to be rich enough to make donations to fall into this category of being deemed worthy of characterization as a good person? When government starts making decisions about planning based on the likability of people who want it to be done in a way that serves their own narrow interests, we have a real problem.
I watched the whole hearing last night too, and while I was indeed convinced by the petitioners that the guy who will benefit from this zoning ordinance change is beloved by many people who have benefitted from his business, I just don’t understand why the fact that people think he’s a great guy, or a good upstanding citizen who complies with all the laws everyone else complies with, or who is going to lose money if he doesn’t get the zoning change he wants, is remotely relevant. And do you really think he’s that good of a person if he’s so willing to put a drug rehab facility in the middle of the historic district if he can’t get what he wants? C’mon!
What I find unacceptable about efforts to circumvent past decisions is that it disregards all the effort made by people who spent their time and energy to create a vision for the city. Why bother participating in these efforts to create historic districts, and comprehensive plans, or zoning codes, if they are just going to be circumvented at a later date? Why would a citizen want to participate if it all will be ignored later when many of the original creators are no longer around? But this is what we do in this city: we get a bunch of earnest citizens to work with planners and consultants and government officials to create rules that will promise to protect the city from the things we fear, and then we ignore these plans/guidelines/codes when someone with a lot of money comes in and wants a special deal. It does not matter if the guy who wants the deal is an angel or the devil. What does matter is that preferential treatment of that person blatantly disregards the community of people who were being good citizens before we arrived and who put a great deal of their life energy into trying to protect the community they were invested in. Does that mean anything? Do we just break the rules they created after a single public hearing, in order to make a change that solely benefits one person or business, because all the proclaimed supporters testify to that one person’s likability. I would like to live in a city that makes everyone abide by the same rules. Equal treatment under the law.
If people want to change the rules, they should provide reasons why the changed rules are good for everyone. No such reasons were offered last night. All we heard was why the rule change for the super great beneficiaries wouldn’t have a big impact on everyone else except for — most obviously — all those neighbors who spoke last night. They also invested in the same neighborhood based on what they understood to be in the current zoning code. I couldn’t not believe some advocates of this zoning change had the nerve to tell residents that if they did not like the changes that would commercialize what was intended to be a residential district, then they should just move to a real residential district. The opposing residents are probably also good people, but at least they behaved like that was not relevant. The zoning code isn’t there to benefit people who are popular, or rich, or who have a successful business. It’s there to protect all citizens from deviating from a plan for city development that was well-reasoned, proofed, and publicly adopted.
Dr Pooley’s testimony was important in explaining why the requested change is not a small change. It’s a significant change to the zoning ordinance, and as such, it requires more than a single public hearing among a small number of people who have a stake in the immediate decision that is motivating the change. Of course, it would be par-for-the-course for city council to approve this and avoid the likely backlash for not showing favoritism to the one person and his friends who are requesting this change. I’m really sorry that the petitioners could not find another way to get around the rules, but I’m more sorry for the public officials who are being asked to make a decision that the mayor should have flatly rejected as reasonable from the beginning. How much time, energy, and money are we going to waste satisfying the interests of one person while all the things that this council should be working on are pushed to the side? If this is really in the interest of the city, it is my hope we will spend a lot more time publicly discussing the implications. In all the sympathetic and emotive appeals put forward by the friends of the zoning change last night, there was only one bit of testimony by the man from Easton who spoke near the end, who made me think we should spend further time on this issue. He had some suggestions for dealing with investments in historical structures that I’d be interested in hearing again. The other testimony on behalf of the zoning change seemed almost entirely beside the point.
Breena has made so many important points here, but a lot boils down to the ability of well-heeled people to bend people in power to their interests. You are correct that Attorney Preston has not answered the question of why this change would be beneficial to the community. (We understand the benefit to the property owners).The only thing presented is their claim that they are rescuing a historic district property, but we dispute that this is anything more than the rest of us who own these “money pits” do. What seems most at stake here is whether our public officials are willing to accede to the demands of a city benefactor that would impact the city & other property owners in unknown but potentially significant ways. The threat that the deliberative process that resulted in our current zoning regulations could be so easily undermined for political reasons has potentially negative consequences for trust in government. I understand that both sides believe they are standing for the preservation of the historic district. The opposition seems to feel it needs protection from apartment dwellers and has even heard threats of a drug rehab facility and even Section 8 housing. The side I support is more concerned about turning this residential neighborhood into a commercial zone. Diversity of residential offerings is more important to me in creating a healthy neighborhood than creating opportunities for businesses to cannibalize the residential neighborhoods.