‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore’
It wasn’t exactly the way I wanted to begin my week. Even knowing that Monday was D-day did not prepare me for the shock and awe that was about to ensue.
The D, in this case, stands for destruction, and driving down New Garden Road as the heavy equipment was pulling in over the weekend, I knew we were on the Eve of Destruction. But no matter how prepared you think you are, when it all starts to go down, you find yourself totally unprepared. I thought I was acquainted with the concept of powerlessness but I was wrong.
Janet and I and a goodly portion of the neighborhood had been fighting this battle since getting that dreaded letter last September from city hall telling us that a 35-unit condo development was going up on the wooded property adjacent to our backyard. We marshaled our forces and actually beat them at the Zoning Commission level, but naturally they appealed the decision to the City Council, where we lost by one vote.
The one saving grace that prevented me from falling on my sword was that there would be a 20-foot undisturbed buffer along a dry stream that separates the property. Since the buffer contains several mature oaks and other hardwoods, some cedars and a number of saplings, I assumed we would be at least somewhat protected from the impending encroachment.
You know the old saying about the word assume, don’t you? Believe it. Lesson No. 1: Where development is concerned, don’t assume anything. Lesson No. 2: If you really think a developer is concerned about saving a few trees, your naivetÃ© is exceeded only by your stupidity. Which makes me naÃ¯ve and stupid ‘— and early Monday morning I realized I’d been made an ass.
As the dB level from whatever they call the machines that take down 200-year-old trees planted by the original New Garden Friends was approaching the pain threshold, I looked out the window and noticed that they were already at my backyard treeline. Since I had sworn in an earlier column that I’d sue if one tree went down that was one inch inside that buffer, I ran outside with my tape measure to stand sentinel over the carnage. By the time I got there, the machine was already taking down trees ‘… all the way to the property line!
Now, to say I went ballistic is a gross understatement. (My father was a postal worker, if you get my drift.) Screaming and waving my arms, I quickly got the driver’s attention, but the damage was already done. By my count, around 20 trees that would have provided some privacy and were clearly within the buffer were already gone.
I was able to compose myself, actually making friends with the heavy equipment operators (who, after all, were only following orders) who agreed to hold off on that portion of the property until we could get the matter settled. Janet and I immediately went into action, calling everyone we could think of, from Mayor Holliday on down. After repeated calls to both the developers went unreturned, our city councilwoman Florence Gatten, bless her heart, made a call that got them out there in about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, we’d also called the News & Record, YES! Weekly, several city departments, the Legal Defense Fund, my lawyer, as well as several people not even remotely connected to property disputes.
By mid-afternoon, we had enough folks huddled on New Garden Road to field a flag football team: two developers, two engineers, YES! Weekly editor Brian Clarey, Board of Adjustments member Janet Wright, my wife (in her wheelchair) and me. But it was Melissa Begley, from the Department of Planning, who finally settled the issue. She had already gone over the plat map with a fine-toothed comb, and after listening to everyone get their two-cents worth in, she walked down to the area in question. Meanwhile, Bill Ruska, Director of the Planning Department, called Janet Wright, telling her that Melissa had the authority to make the determination.
After comparing the map with the site itself, she determined that the developers had, in fact, not gone over the proscribed line, that they were within the letter of the law, that no violations had occurred.
In other words, that I and the rest of the property owners along Garden Lake Drive were SOL, and there was nothing she, an urban forester and certified arborist, could do about it.
So, obviously it wasn’t Melissa’s fault, but how could the buffer that had been agreed to and promised by both the developer and his lawyer at the Zoning Commission hearing and the City Council meeting suddenly disappear? What happened between then and now that allowed them to disregard the agreement, drastically alter the plans that the City Council had signed off on, and take down every single tree they wanted to along the entire northern edge of the property line?
Tune in next week to find out. If you have any regard for property rights and/or preservation, it’ll be enough to make you sick.
Ogi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and heard each Tuesday at 9:35 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM.