All too often, our city commission is asleep at the switch, rubber stamping whatever staff recommends, with virtually no questions asked. This inattention is only visible if you watch the meetings. It isn’t reported in the News Journal but the commission’s inattentive rubber-stamping shapes our city just as much as the big news-worthy stories they do report.
Recently, our city commission approved a change to our Land Development Code (LDC) to benefit one major campaign contributor. This was a blatant pay-to-play deal; although I am sure our commissioners would solemnly place hand over heart and deny it.
George Anderson owns the vacant lot on the northeast corner of AIA and Main Street. He has a development agreement in place but cannot begin development until a lawsuit is resolved. He could choose to settle the lawsuit but has not done so. Since he can’t develop the lot, he’s been running it as a paid parking lot; 170 spaces at $10 a space for 12 years. In order for him to continue using this as a temporary parking lot, our LDC needed to be changed.
At George Anderson’s request, our city staff got busy and drafted the language to change the LDC to allow two year extensions until such time as the development agreement expires. In the case of this agreement, expiration occurs when a certificate of occupancy is issued – meaning if he chooses not to build, it will never expire. City staff did include language that the extensions must be approved by city staff and that the parking lot must be keep to certain standards.
At the Commission (available on video)
At the first reading, November 15, 2017, item 9B, you’ll see Ruth Trager once again being the most aggressive person on the commission. She requests, and they pass, an amendment to the LDC change so the commission approves the extensions to the temporary parking permits, not city staff. You’ll see Kelly White ask about the expiration of the temporary parking permissions with the expiration of the development agreement, and be assured that this is the case. What you do not hear anyone ask is when this particular development agreement expires. They all knew exactly which property was driving this discussion and not ONE commissioner asked. Not ONE commissioner asked exactly when will there ever be a limit to the number of extensions. I guess they trust in their ability to manage this, but I’m skeptical. (In fairness, Paula Reed and Danette Henry were not at this meeting, so they could hardly be expected to ask questions.)
At the second reading, December 6, 2017, item 9A, you’ll see Ruth Trager again challenging the need for this change. You’ll see Aaron Delgado ask about the need for beachside parking. And you’ll see Reed Berger, Director of Redevelopment, cite a study about which he remembers nothing specific. You’ll see Jim Chisholm, City Manager, jump in and say that the best he recalls, we’re short 1,000 spaces in the area. What you won’t see is anyone ASK for a copy of the study. They are voting on a change to our LDC, staff has NOT provided them with full documentation and not ONE of them says, let’s continue this until we’re fully informed. Not ONE of them. It passed, unopposed.
I requested and received a copy of the study. It’s short, I read it, and discovered that Chisholm’s memory is faulty. I wonder if he read it. I’ve enclosed it below my letter to the commission.
My Letter to the City Commission
Happy New Year!!
At the last commission meeting, as you discussed the need to change the LDC for George Anderson’s parking lot, you were told that it was an absolute necessity based on the results of a recent parking study. And not one of you asked to see the study. Perhaps you’d already seen it?
If not, I would have expected you to ask. Neither Reed nor Jim provided solid details. Jim said as best he could recall there was a deficit of 1,000 spaces. But that’s a qualified statement and should not have been the basis for a vote. If you hadn’t read that study, you should have asked for that opportunity before voting.
In any case, I enclose the study here for your consideration. Better late than never. It’s only 30 pages and is a quick read. Do you see a “hair on fire” deficit of 1,000 parking spaces?
Please ask more questions.
Please insist that if a study is to be cited in support of staff recommendations that the study be included in the documentation of the agenda item.
Response from the Commission
Ruth Trager thanked me for providing the study. She was half way through reading it. She asked me to send these things to her before the meetings. I regretfully informed her that I learned of the report at the same time she did, in the meeting, so providing it to her prior to the meeting would have been impossible.
What I discovered looking at the documents around the request to change our LDC was that the request for the change was made by Don Henderson on behalf of the property owner, George Anderson. This form indicates that it needs to be notarized. When I received it, it was not notarized. I emailed the commission, asking about that; either it doesn’t need to be notarized and the form should be changed or if notarization is required, it should be provided. Rob Gilliland was very defensive, thinking I was implying fraud. I wasn’t. What I was concerned about is having a city staff that doesn’t pay attention to details; particularly when the person on the form is a major contributor to all campaigns. They had the form notarized after the first public reading and after I questioned it.