By Keith Jones

First, I couldn’t have been more proud of grateful to you for taking the time to express your concerns to council. Take it from me, your effort was not in vain even though it might seem that way.

"Hey! Keep the lights down!"
“Hey! Keep the lights down!”

A natural reaction on your part

I know it’s easy to go away disgusted and decide it was a waste of time.

In spite of what Mr. Smotherman said about the pledge sounding so good with everybody there, that is not what the council wants. I think they like operating in the dark.

Three minutes of fame — unless you are Mr. Harney

Otherwise, why put so many restrictions on input from the voters? It is not as though the meetings would go past midnight because people waiting to speak are lined up out the door and into the civic plaza. You get three minutes to speak at public hearings, and you can only bring up other subjects once a month before the TV show starts.

Heaven forbid if someone said something subversive, and it went out over the air. By the way, Mr. Harney’s remarks at the July 9th meeting ran about 6 1/2 minutes.

Now how, you ask, was it not in vain when the ordinance passed on a unanimous vote three weeks later?

When I was the only person speaking, these rezoning votes were almost like consent items.

Let’s take the April 1 planning commission meeting on a proposal by Mr. Harney to rezone another property on Joe B. Jackson. The commissioners listened politely to me until my three minutes were up. Mr Young made a couple of mundane comments and the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the rezoning.This seems to be standard procedure.

Come to think of it almost all votes on major issues are unanimous here. I’ve never seen so much brotherly love on a council or planning commission before.

What was different about this time?

You had a real impact.
“Could the meetings be scripted?”

– You shocked the council. Someone who was there with me that night told me later he heard  one council member muttter that  he had never seen a turnout this big.

– Second, you put the council on the defensive. Did you notice that meetings the next two weeks were cancelled? Maybe a couple of members had an important bridge tournament on those two Thursdays.

It certainly wasn’t to give Mr. Harney more time so he could announce what was going in if the rezoning passed. We’re still in the dark.

– Most importantly, Mr. Harney felt a need to respond your appearance. There would have been no promise of things he wouldn’t put in on Joe B. if I were the only person there in opposition.

They are on record as saying nothing bad is going to happen there.

– And both the developer and the council pledged publicly that nothing “bad” is going to go in near us on Joe B. Jackson. I doubt Mr.Harney wants to ruin his reputation with an outright lie after saying he is a good steward of the land. And even though the rezoning strips the council of a lot of power over what happens on Joe B. , I can imagine council members saying to Mr. Harney:

“We stuck out necks out for you. Don’t let us down.”

That was quite an achievement. So don’t get discouraged.

I plan to continue going to meetings and reporting what I see in this space. All I am asking from you is to stay active. Pay attention to what goes on at the council, and be willing to scream again if your toes get stepped on.

It would be unrealistic to think by showing up one night you could change a culture that probably goes back decades. But you can win if you stay active — maybe not anything like a total victory. But you can moderate the irresponsible council decisions that are now being made. My goal has never been to stop growth here any more than I plan to stop the sun from coming up. I support planned growth rather than letting the free market decide for us.

 

"This script looks better than the one they are playing by."
“This script looks better than the one they are playing by.”

What would be some aims worth fighting for?

1. We think city officials not developers are the best people to plan our city. And with the population expected to double in 20 years, someone responsible to us should  be planning. Developers focus like laser beams on whatever is currently on the table. By nature, they are poor city planners. It’s not their job.

2. We’ve been operating under a comprehensive plan that dates from the time Walter Mondale was running against Ronald Reagan. And it is only advisory. The new comprehensive plan that comes out of this process should be adopted by city council so it has the force of law. I am assuming this is going to happen.

End the blank check rezonings

3. Fix the zoning ordinance. We shouldn’t have these rezonings where we give a developer a virtual blank check without any idea what he plans to put in. It is sloppy to grant a rezoning with a lot of nasty uses and then rely on a private “no fly” agreement with the developer to make everything come out all right.

Put everything that doesn’t cause smoke, noise, odor or vibrations in a default zoning for areas within a mile of 50 homes or more. That means any manufacturer that keeps all his noise, odor, smoke and vibrations within his building can operate without any rezoning at all. And a reszoning request under this system could only be for one of the nasty uses — which would end all this silly “trust us” language.

"We're independent birds by nature, but Mr. Baines is right."
“We’re independent birds by nature, but Mr. Baines is right.”

How do we advance our interests? Let’s take a leaf from the book of the sports groups. I’ve been a council watcher since 1973 in three cities. From my experience, when a new park goes in, one of the first projects there is ball fields for league play. That’s because the sports groups can turn out a mass of people for a council meeting (or an election) any time they snap their fingers.

I’m not a person who likes  homeowners associations. I hate paying another layer of taxes and I don’t like a board telling me what to do on my property. But I’m afraid I have to agree with Mr. Baines’ comment in our forum.

"Will the representative on our side please step forward and sign?
“Will the representative on our side please step forward and sign?”

Mr. Harney was offering us something substantial with his restrictive covenants banning several nasty uses of the parcel though 2060. But there is no one to sign on our end. I feel the next step should be to form homeowners associations in the neighborhoods around Joe B. Jackson so we can mobilize to protect our interests.

And there should be a league of associations so that different neighborhoods can come together when a rezoning proposal like this one threatens our interests. I’d like to hear from you about this on the forum.

(You get onto the forum page by making a comment at the bottom of any post I publish. I get an email telling me a new comment is pending. I then add your comment manually to the forum where it is handy for everyone to read.)

If I have learned anything from this, it’s that elections are expensive, even at the local level, and money often rules. But things change when people take notice of what is happening.

Finally, if anyone should be discouraged it would be me (or grammatically “I”). And I remain optimistic.  Since April 1, I have hung about 600 flyers on doorknobs (about 100 a day) four different times. When I wasn’t doing that I spent roughly a month gathering 551 names on a petition. If I think putting my life on hold for four months was worth it, surely your two hours of effort one night should not leave you turned off.

Turning a Carnival Cruise ship around

If was unreasonable to expect to turn the council around by showing up one night and screaming. It’s a long process like turning an ocean liner around.

A lot of what happens next depends upon you. I’m an old man who can only be obnoxious for so long without having to stop and take a nap. Some would say my current role, however, is one I am admirably suited for.

 

 

 

 

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