Poo poo at City Council

House the Masses

So our neighborhood was looking to stop a rezoning effort that will result in a monolithic, “workforce housing” apartment building being planted at the end of our culdesac. Fair enough – folks gotta live somewhere, right?  Well yeah – but we thought we’d go the extra mile and, not only accept the apartment dwellers into our neighborhood, but attempt to do so in a way that would preserve some semblance of quality of life.  I.e., we thought a commercial presence as part of the development would foster a better sense of community, both for us and the new arrivals.

Want the good news or the bad news first?

The good news is that our existing B5 zoning designation provides for exactly what I described above.  So can’t we just trade the 54 unit building for, say, a 36 unit building and throw in a nice coffee shop, or deli, or whatever?  Not so fast – you haven’t heard the bad news yet.

The bad news is that such a plan would be an imperfect match for what the local behemoth developer has in mind – namely, to pack in as many bodies as possible.  Getting tenants for the commercial space amounts to an annoyance and degree of uncertainty that threatens his profit margin, so why bother if you can get local government to back you up?  I mean, with local initiatives like Destination Medical Center, housing potential workers like cord wood is the name of the game. You mention DMC to the local governmental bodies and say “jump,” and they will surely respond with “how high?”

Zoning Boning

So a few weeks back the developer pitched the idea of of swapping our idyllic B5 zoning designation to that of R3 to the boys and girls down at the Planning and Zoning Commission.  That’s the cord wood option that guarantees an “us versus them” attitude in the absence of any space for the new and established communities to connect.  I do need to be fair here, however – the developer did give us a 10 day notice of a neighborhood meeting to discuss what he and his cronies downtown have no doubt been working on for months on end – the rezoning initiative.  So I admit that we had an entire 10 days to make the rest of the neighborhoods aware of this impending tsunami (by law only houses within 500 feet get a notification, but they went the extra mile and notified all 4 or 5 of us within 600 feet) and to become planning and zoning experts, not to mention experts on Roberts Rules of Order (we’ll see why later.)

Soldiering on, our first request at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting was a request to delay the decision given the minimal time we had to research the issue vs what the developer had available to him.  I made that request myself, as a matter of fact, and was still beaming over my moment in the public spotlight when it dawned on me that my request was completely ignored… insofar as the response was “Thank you, next?”  That pretty much set the tone for what was to come, and not surprisingly, the Commission sided with the developer unanimously.

This is where parliamentary procedure and Roberts Rules of Order come in.  The meeting essentially goes like this:

  1. Intro
  2. Present the topic
  3. Listen to public comments
  4. Discussion among the Commission
  5. Act on the proposal

The sad part is if that, during step 4, if it becomes clear one or more Commission member is sorely misinformed or making a grievous logic error of some type, you are not empowered to intervene in any way.  So if, during step 4, and Commission member were to say:”I have to rule in the developer’s favor because the sun comes out at night and the moon shines during the day,” none of the unwashed masses in attendance would be able to utter one syllable in protest.  And so it was that the Commission acted exclusively on some very dubious (at best) “staff findings” that we were unable to contest, one of which is covered here.  Love that.

Off to City Council

And so it was that our next stop would be City Council – where Planning and Zoning Commission decisions have been know to be reversed with reasonable frequency.  We were advised to talk to as many City Council members as possible, so we assembled in to “hit squads” and managed to cover the entire City Council.  The conversations all seemed very helpful and frank.  The amount of time they were willing to spend with us was very impressive.  As a result of these conversations and several neighborhood meetings, we felt like we might be fairly well prepared to get the Planning and Zoning decision reversed, although our conversations with the builder were somewhat inconsistent and surreal.

We arrived as a small army at the council chambers slightly less naive than previously, armed with a PowerPoint presentation peppered with photos of cute kids and what we thought was some pretty compelling information.  Throughout our talks with Council members, they emphasized that our approach – i.e., embracing the new construction, but in a way that would retain the spirit of the B5 zone for the sake of everyone involved, was unique.  We were definite not a “NOT IN OUR BACK YARD” lynch mob.  Here’s a shot of some of us while waiting for the first few hours of unrelated hearings to finish,

The Army

Round about 10 PM we finally approached the podium.  Our three presenters did a great job, despite the fact that our intended PowerPoint presentation needed to be gutted within just a few hours of the meeting based on the developer basically telling us he was now less inclined to negotiate and more interested in playing hardball.

The details are pretty gruesome and available here starting at the 2:51:13 point for anyone with masochistic tendencies or for CSPAN junkies.

In my view the crux of the problem goes all the way back to my previous rant on how little notification we received before the approval process got under way.  I say this because it was clear to me that, given the time, money, effort, lobbying and administrative attention to detail the developer had devoted to the proposal thus far (utterly under the public radar,) not giving him what he wanted or something extremely close was essentially off the table.  At one point a Councilman even said “You realize that if we keep the B5 zoning designation, the developer will not be able to implement his plan, right?” with the same gravity as if he were saying “You realize the earth will explode, right?”

Boned Again

So in the end, wittingly or unwittingly, it all amounted to giving the developer what he wanted.  The only question was whether or not it would be under the guise of a “compromise” solution or not.  The Council’s last gasp at being able to brandish this as a “negotiated” deal was throwing the B2 Zoning designation out there as an option – something that nobody in the room even claimed to understand.  Our understandable response of “Where did this come from?  How can we consent to this when we don’t know anything about it?” was taken as an unwillingness to compromise.  Ironically, the Council’s unwillingness to talk about possible B5 variances, which might involve a few more meetings and push the developer closer to his state funding deadline, was evidently not identified an aversion to compromise on their part.

We lost on a 4 to 3 vote.  Stay tuned for more fun… the appeals process or possibly a Mayoral veto is beckoning…

Comments/Reply…

 

 

Proposed Facebook Filters

These are the types of things that I would set up personal filters for if I had such a power in Facebook:

“This will bring tears to your eyes”  

I find that, pretty much without exception, posts with this text involved are ultra sappy, shallow attempts at triggering an emotive response, but only succeed in doing so for those in chronic need of psychiatric counseling.  Everyone else gets nauseous.

“The Top 10… [anything]“

These sites are generally very poorly implemented ad machines that, even if the content were interesting, as in “Top 10 Celebrities that Don’t Cut Their Nails”, they make the content all but unobtainable due to incessant popups piling up on each other.  If your happiness hinges on getting tighter buns, or better defined eyebrows, or obtaining torrential virility, then the popups you see here might be just the thing for you.  Come to think of it, any subject with a number in it is probably suspect as well, e.g., “27 Reasons Why You Should…”

 “Adorable… [anything]“

I love animals and I love kids, but you can only see so many videos of dogs walking awkwardly with their new shoes on or kids that… well, I guess now that I have little kids I can’t get enough of them.  But even I don’t presume to assume that’s true for everyone, and I don’t find it that hard not to characterize kid posts as “adorable,” one of the most annoying words in the English language due to it’s chronic abuse.

“Amazing, Unbelievable”… and all other superlatives T

This basically translates to body manipulations by freakishly flexible people, punks doing things in mid air that end badly, orchestras unexpectedly converging on town squares one by one, zits being popped with what looks like the content of a jar of mayonnaise, and kids playing a piano or guitar at very adult levels of proficiency.  Don’t need ‘em – life’s simply too short.

“Share This If You… blah, blah” 

This one’s maybe the worst of all.  The author tries to guilt you into passing on their (without exception) inane post by creating the impression you are an uncaring monster if you should be so bold as to elect not to.  I feel bad for these folks, as they are desperately in need of a life, but I feel ever worse for the stooges that fall prey to their pathetic attempt at social media bullying.

 

Facebook Thoughts…

Like for most people, Facebook represents a two edged sword for me insofar as you are forced to confront the best and worst of humanity – or at least the best and worst of individuals on a given day.  I confess that I am most vulnerable to disappointment in the political category – I never thought I had much of a political opinion until I ran across some of the conservative (and to a lesser extent) liberal rants so rampant in Facebook.

Anyway, I felt the need to have a spot where I could diffuse some rage with regard to Facebook without having everyone I know unfriend me.  So there you have it.  Brace yourself.

Good Lord

This back thing is going to be the end of me.  Hobbling everywhere, hanging  on to everything in a desperate attempt to eliminate the possibility of anything unpredictable happening in my movements.  It seemed to be winding down, finally, after 10 days,  and then I lost substantial ground when  I made a wrong move filling up my daughter’s bike tires with air.  Physically, not necessarily back to square one, but psychologically, very much so.

Well, at least everyone else is healthy.  I gotta get healthy too before our family vacation in like 10 days!

Lutsen At Last

We have been waiting SO long for a vacation.  I mean a Mom and Dad vacation.  But with an 8 year old, 6 year old and 21 month old, the logistics for a thing like that don’t happen overnight.  But they did happen for us eventually, over the course of a few months.  We sent the 21 month old to the grandparents, the 6 and 8 year olds to their cousins.  But in the meantime my 93 year old Mom’s health problems began to put her  in and out of the ER repeatedly.  Fortunately she began to stabilize just a few days before the vacation, and my brother was in town from Connecticut – he graciously offered to stay a few more days to cover my Mom while we were gone.

lutsen

An angry Lake Superior

And so we went.  After an uneventful, even pleasant 6 hour drive, we arrived with splendid weather.  That weather lasted for exactly two hours, then blowing rain and cold ensued.  The next morning I awoke to discover I’d thrown my back out… so I was condemned to lurching about the townhome, wobbling from one piece of furniture to the next, trying in vain to be comfortable.  It was just as well – the weather pretty much prohibited us from going outdoors.

The next day, right about the same time my back started showing early signs of improvement, I discovered I had pink eye.  Hoo-wee, both eyes, no less.  When I awake tomorrow morning I will no doubt feel like somebody poured plaster of paris all over my eyes.That’s life in the big city I guess… er, very little city in this case.  Stay tuned, those of you wishing you were on “vacation” as well…

The Lutsen Lodge in a rare moment of sunshine

The Lutsen Lodge in a rare moment of sunshine

PB Letter Published!

Wow, my 225 word letter to the editor was published yesterday.  Got some interesting responses, but it was interesting to see that, right out of the chute, the first responder somehow figured I must have been talking about the Chardonnay issue, and made some surreal connection between myself and Melissa Harris-Perry, citing her as my “oracle.”  Well, suffice it to say that any respectable, self appointed editorial squeaky wheel should at least take the time to read what they are responding to.

Done Deal

Well, looks like the new R3 construction is all but a done deal.  I wrote a little ditty to the Post Bulletin.  Adhering to the 225 word limit caused me to leave out a few crucial details – but hopefully folks will get the point.  Here’s a copy of what I sent to the paper, for what it’s worth:

 I’d like to address what I feel is the 900 pound gorilla in the room regarding zoning/construction requests in Rochester. Developers are only compelled to notify persons of building proposals that live within 500 feet of the building site, and then only within 10 days of the proposal. What this results in, at best, is a neighborhood spokesperson with a small cadre of individuals who are willing to drop everything to begin their 10 day crash course in zoning law and parliamentary procedure, who come before the zoning commission in a desperate bid to pause the “wheels of progress”. They are faced by a seasoned developer, cool as a cucumber, speaking before the council like he has many times before, with every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. Our haggard group of amateurs can only hope to get their point across, however unprofessionally, in the interest of desperately defending what they believe is in the best interest of their neighborhood. The unspoken tone of the conversation now becomes “What can you possibly say that would justify causing this professional developer any hardship in the wake of the time and money he has put into these plans?” It’s a battle skewed dramatically in the interest of the developer, as we learned the hard way when the 54 unit workforce apartment complex was approved for Meadow Park.

We made the news!

Looky => HERE <= …