Some of Them Were Angry at the Way the Earth Was Abused
It couldn’t have been more poetic; I couldn’t have scripted it any better. If I had beseeched the God of my understanding for a seamless segue from last week’s column into this week’s part 2, it couldn’t have been provided in a more timely and fitting fashion.
Thank you, US Supreme Court.
I had ended last week’s tirade about the land adjacent to my backyard being cleared to make way for a condo complex with the tease: ‘“If you have any regard for property rights and/or preservation, it’ll be enough to make you sick.’” Obviously I was thinking locally, while the Supreme Court was acting globally. In one of the worst decisions ever handed down by the Narcoleptic Nine, they ruled that the federal government may use its right of eminent domain to take someone’s private property and hand it over to a developer, not for a public use such as a road or reservoir, but for a for-profit enterprise such as a hotel, office park or golf course.
Well, I’m not sure how to fight a decision handed down by the final arbiter in the land, but I do have some thoughts about ways to level the playing field on the local level. The deck is clearly stacked in favor of developers, and probably always will be, but there may be a vehicle by which property owners would have a fighting chance.
I first heard of this idea from Janet Wright, currently on the Board of Adjustments and for the 12 years prior on the Zoning Commission. In essence, what she claims is needed is some form of citizens advocacy group to advise property owners of their rights in zoning disputes and inform them of ways to keep rampant encroachment at bay. Most citizens really have no idea what may be planned for their neighborhood until they get a letter from the city informing them of a proposed zoning change. And by the time they get the letter, maybe two months before the hearing, the developers have been hard at work on plans for that property for perhaps two years. Believe me, when you get that letter, you have no clue where to turn, and that’s where an advocacy group could be of benefit.
They could show the neighborhood how to organize a petition drive; how to structure their argument before the Zoning Commission, City Council or County Board of Commissioners; how to make sure the builders and developers have the required permits and are in compliance with all relevant codes, etc. Hell, who even knows what RS-5 or RM-12 or any of that jargon means unless you have a need to know?
At the June 21 City Council meeting we picked up an unexpected ally in none other than Mayor Keith Holliday. With no prompting, the mayor stated, ‘“We almost have a built-in conflict where individuals come in and make an application to a planning department that actually holds the key of recommendation based on the final product. It would almost be great to have an independent source within the city that could give advice and discussion on a project that is not also the same person who is going to’… recommend or not recommend. We almost need somebody’… who could review it that is not a part of the recommendation process, someone truly independent.’”
I couldn’t agree more, Mayor. Let’s go ahead and eliminate the word ‘almost’ and get the ball rolling.
But I would go one step further. Call it the ‘get it in writing’ clause. While the applicant and the planning department are hammering out any changes in the project, the nearby homeowners are left completely out of the loop. Moreover, there is no requirement that anyone communicate the changes to the citizenry.
My case is a perfect example. The plan that the city council, the developer, his lawyer, and the property owners signed off on barely resembles the plan that was on map when the heavy equipment started torturing the timber and stripping the land. A sewer line had been moved, an outfall (what’s an outfall?) added, some curb cuts (what’s a curb cut?) moved, all of which resulted in the 20-foot undisturbed buffer that we had agreed on being eliminated.
And when did I find out about all this? Moments after the trees that made up the buffer had been felled by the heavy equipment! If either the developer or the city had been required to make me aware of the changes, I may not have liked it, but at least I wouldn’t have been out there in my pajamas, screaming polysyllabic obscenities, threatening to chain myself to an oak tree while calling the News & Record to tell them of a great photo op.
My battle is already lost, but perhaps if these changes are implemented it can keep the next guy from making a fool of himself in front of God and everybody.
Ogi can be reached at email@example.com and heard Tuesday mornings 9:30-10 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM.