Last night I attended a community meeting of a local body-politic on which I once served a four-year term as Chairman. This board deals with planning, zoning, and development in the county of my birth and where I have made my home for some six decades. Once again, the wingtip dorky dress-shoed and suited attorneys hired by one of the largest developers were at it again, …
… presenting plans for redevelopment of an old, tired, and decrepit garden apartment complex.
I must be old. I remember when that apartment complex was first built, and many of my friends from junior high and high school lived there. Those apartments once were well-kept and the community had little crime and was an affordable and comfortable place to live. (It was just about a mile away from my childhood home.)
The area where these apartments are, however, has endured many changes, some not for the best. Crime has increased and the number of renters receiving subsidized housing assistance has reached more than 75% in that 400-unit apartment complex. The tension with unemployed residents on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale is palpable. The number of citations for various infractions with maintenance and safety in that complex has skyrocketed, adding to the feeling of abandonment that residents feel.
I understand, then, why the owner of that complex wants to sell it and actually retire. Funny in a “small-world” way that the owner of the apartment complex is a man that I knew since grade school. Even back then, he was an arrogant prick with many grandiose thoughts of self-entitlement. His father was known to be among the richest men in the area (and later was convicted of crimes related to many housing violations with accusations of being a slum-lord.) But I digress…
The son just wants out. He looked very weary and tired. I get it. I actually felt sorry for him.
So Big Developer A swoops in and offers to buy out the apartments and rejuvenate the 100-acre parcel into a walkable yuppieville, appealing to the millennials, with bike trails, gyms, coffee shops, and other amenities that appeal to the younger generation. Also, a newly redeveloped Federal Government complex of agency headquarters, labs, and office space is just two miles away, so this old tired apartment complex parcel is ripe for developing it into housing that will appeal to workers at this new Federal Government complex that is forecast to have more than 7,000 jobs when it is all built-out.
Again, I get it. Time to redevelop and renew.
Back to last night’s dog-and-pony show by the Developer’s attorneys — wow, what a show. Lots of graphs and charts and a sweeping vista from cinematographic almost science-fiction film (yeah film, not video). Seriously (I found out later) the Developer had the promotional film created by the same studio that produces many of the action-adventure films released from Hollywood.
They promised the moon, stars, and the sun. Two suns and a galaxy to be exact.
The only problem is — no housing that would be affordable for residents who have lived there and in the general area. Building condos with “starting at the low 600’s” prices with tremendously more density (1,500 units compared with 400 there now) complicates traffic and demand on schools, fire, police, recreation, parks, and other local government functions.
Yet during the community response period after the presentation — no one said anything about that. They were all applauding the film. Seriously? The film? Not the loss of affordable housing?
No one from the complex under consideration of demolition and replacement with 2020 science fiction was there.
Come on, there must be some compromise here, but I was not in the place to suggest it, because it was obvious that community input was needed and that didn’t happen.
Instead of resisting and fighting, I took another tac. I rose, was recognized by the Board Chair, and walked to the microphone to speak. As I was walking down the aisle and passing the attorneys, I heard one mutter to the other, “oh damn, there’s that guy in the boots again.” Yep, I kinda have a reputation (giggle.)
I simply asked for a point of order and requested permission to ask a direct question to the Developer’s attorneys. Granted.
So I asked, “please describe the efforts made to engage the current residents of the apartment complex and notify them of this hearing.”
I asked once again.
Then my ol’ grade-school classmate, owner of the complex said sheepishly, “well, they sent a letter to me as the owner.” The attorneys said, “that’s all the law requires.”
Well, I know the rules and regulations, and while the attorneys were technically correct, the owner of the parcel had the responsibility to provide at least 30-days notice of the public hearing and also post the plans in a prominent location on the property and also notify the tenant’s association. He admitted to doing none of those things.
With that admission, the Chair of this Board called a halt to further consideration. Then she ticked off actions that the property owner must do to engage the current residents. She appointed a community liaison (another old fart like me but who lives closer and is retired so he has more time) to fully engage the current residents of the property and make them aware of the plans.
Another public hearing will be scheduled in 90 days, giving time for community engagement to occur.
This is not to say that these redevelopment plans may not go forward. The only thing is, input from current residents will be actively sought and their engagement will be directly encouraged so their voices will be heard.
That’s enough and all I was asking for. ‘nuf for this community-oriented guy to make happen.
Life is short: employ the rules and regulations in a way that contributes to doing the right thing.