Thursday, August 10, 2006

Politician granny with your high ideals, have you no idea how the majority feels?

We won the battle, but the war continues.

(Sorry to keep y'all waiting for this post - I didn't realize everyone was so interested! I needed a day yesterday to just decompress and not think about this for a little while.)

The development company withdrew their petition for a variance, which means they won't be able to build six townhouses next door. However, they are now planning on coming back with a plan to build five townhouses, which is the maximum allowable under the current zoning.

So I guess I was a little misleading in the last post when I said pray for the Zoning Board to deny the variance so I could stop writing about this. Because basically what happened is we bought ourselves a couple months' time while the development company goes back to the drawing board and comes up with a new plan. Which means the fight is going to continue, which means I'm going to keep writing about it. Alas.

The zoning hearing itself was pretty stressful for me. I was so tense the whole time that my jaw hurt the entire next day from clenching it so tightly.

Our case was third on the New Business portion of the agenda, so we had to sit through one Old Business case and two other New Business cases before they got to us. I don't know if you've ever been to a zoning hearing or any other kind of community meeting before, but suffice to say, if it doesn't concern you personally it's incredibly boring. We got there a little before 7pm (the hearing started at 7:15) and our case didn't come up until almost 9, so we were there for two hours just sitting and watching the board members debate.

The nice thing was that a LOT of people from the neighborhood showed up. People that I hadn't even spoken to personally, who just got my flyers, showed up. There were 18 people there to oppose the variance, which made me very happy. I was hoping for 10, so 18 was totally kick-ass.

The big bad developer guy had one of his flunkies sitting there in the meeting the whole time and I guess they asked for more time to get ready to present their case, because the board chairman announced that the last case would go before ours, which meant we had to wait even longer. I think they were hoping that people would get tired and go home. But nobody left.

And then when it was finally their turn to present their case, no one from their side was there to do it! The flunkie apparently went out to get the other guys, so the board had to call a recess while they waited for the dudes to show up. So lame.

So we all stood around chatting for about ten minutes, and I got to finally meet my excellent Ward Councillor and talk to him - what a great guy. He was very genuine and normal and really seemed to care about his job and representing his constituents' interests. Poor Nolan was so tired and getting cranky. KB had been entertaining him the whole time up until that point, but he was running out of distractions.

Nolan was playing on the floor by the door when the developer and his local buffoon (the one who harrassed me at home) finally came in, and I had the biggest rush of fierce protective instinct as they walked by him - every cell in my body was like, "Don't you fucking touch my child, you fucking goon!" It was at that point that the adrenaline fight-or-flight thang kicked in, so I was a massive bundle of nerves for the rest of the hearing.

The local doofus did the presenting of their case, which was so incredibly lame, it was almost laughable. They didn't even say what their hardship supposedly was - all the guy talked about was how if he was allowed to build these six townhouses he would bring a new water line to the street. At one point he started talking about the big bad developer's reputation being sullied (although "sullied" is much too sophisticated a word for this guy to have used) by malicious racially-motivated gossip in the other neighborhoods he'd built in. He said, "[Loser Developer] has built houses on streets that you and I would be afraid to walk down." and I was thinking, "That's supposed to be an endorsement? He builds in scary neighborhoods? Yeah, let's bring him here to our street!"

So then the chairman asked if there was anyone else who wanted to speak in favor of the project, and there was silence. Then he asked if anyone wanted to speak in opposition to the project, and about ten hands went up. So he laughed and said, "Okay, just form a line down the center aisle."

I went first. I wanted to just talk and get it over with. I went up to the podium, which was centered in front of the big U-shaped counter where all the board members were sitting. I brought my binders full of photocopied newspaper articles and the pictures I'd taken of the property next door and told the chairman I had materials to hand out to the board members, and one of them came over to the podium to get them from me.

At that point, the big bad developer dude, who up until then had been sitting in the back not saying anything, walked up to the podium behind me and starting saying very loudly that he wanted to know what materials I was handing out, and that he had reason to believe they were defamatory toward him.

And the chairman was like, "Who are you?" and the guy said, "I'm [Loser Developer]." and the chairman said, "Well, you've had your turn to present your case and Miss Thptpth has the floor right now." I turned to look at the guy, who was just this normal-looking pot-bellied short dude, and I thought, "You're the guy?" I had built him up in my mind as this big boogeyman, and here he was, talking out of order and trying to rattle me before I spoke, and getting shot down by the chairman.

So they passed around my binders and the pictures, and I made my case. When I started talking about the reputation of the developer and how the local goon had come to my house and threatened me, the chairman asked me to please keep my presentation limited to things that pertained to the project itself, so I had to cut out some of what I was going to say. My voice got really hoarse and I know I repeated myself a couple of times, but basically I think I did okay. I'm glad I had the podium to hold onto or my hands would have been shaking. One of the board members was somehow offended by the fact that I'd given them the newspaper articles; he tossed the binder back over the table toward me and said that it was unnecessary and that he didn't appreciate being told how to think. I was like, "Okayyyyy. Sure."

I wrapped it up by saying that they should consider that the developer hadn't even said what their supposed hardship was, and then I walked back to my seat. A bunch of other people got up to talk, including the Ward Councillor. KB went up and just said, "I agree with everything my wife said," and somebody in the audience said, "Good man!" and the board members laughed.

It became clear from the questions and discussion that a couple people on the board (including the one who tossed the binder at me) were on the developer's side, but that everyone else was against them. So the chairman was going to call the vote, and then the local doofus came up to the podium and said that they'd like to withdraw their petition. When the board voted on whether to allow them to withdraw it, they were turned down. Then there was more discussion about whether they had ever previously not allowed someone to withdraw their petition, and then there was a motion to re-vote on whether to allow them to withdraw, and people started getting confused. One of the board members was like, "If I vote 'aye' on this motion, what am I saying?"

In the end, they voted to allow them to withdraw the petition, which was sort of a bummer for us. The best thing would have been if they'd voted on the petition and been denied, because then it goes on record as a negative vote. Since they were allowed to withdraw their petition, it's more of a neutral thing. Which is too bad.

They're planning on coming up with new plans to build five townhouses instead, which, depending on what the plans look like, may not violate any zoning codes. So they may not have to have any public meeting about the feasibility of the whole thing. But now they're on our radar, and the Ward Councillor is going to keep me posted on when and if they come back to the Building Department with new plans.

My fervent wish is that they'll just decide it's not worth the money without the sixth unit and go away or resell the property. I don't think that's what's going to happen, but that's my best-case scenario. The next best case is that the City Council moves to re-zone the street to make it off-limits to multi-family developments, which is what I'm going to start working on next: a petition from the neighborhood to the City Council to do just that. If we can't get the neighborhood re-zoned and they decide to go ahead with the project, I'm hoping they'll be delayed long enough that it will be winter and they won't start until spring (I've seen other building projects go on throughout the winter, though, so they may not be very likely.) Our last option is we hire that lawyer and sue to stop construction. I'm also going to see if I can get someone from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection out here to look at the stream that runs behind the property and see if it qualifies as a Protected Waterway.

So that's what happened. I felt really drained after it was all over Tuesday night, and simultaneously all hyped up and adrenalized. I couldn't go to sleep for a long time, and I couldn't help but feel let down even though we'd won. I guess I had built up the hearing in my mind as this big showdown, the climax of the story, when in fact it was just the opening salvo in a long fight. I guess I was sort of hoping I wouldn't have to deal with this any more after the hearing, that it would just go away and be over.

But I also think I've learned a great deal in the last two weeks, not the least of which is how gratifying it is to fight for something you really want. Seeing and talking to all those people from the neighborhood at the hearing was a big thing for me. I really felt like they were there because of my efforts (a couple of them had my flyers in their hands as they were sitting there) and that what I'd done had actually made a difference. It was pretty cool.

So you're going to have to read more about this, I'm afraid!

Thanks for reading.


Karan said...

Bravo! Y'all became a real neighborhood that night and you WON! Congratulations!

Electric Mayhem said...

Yay Joy! Way to go! I'll look forward to hearing more.

Electric Mayhem said...

Have you been so overwhelmed by this that you forgot about "Nolan is 14 MONTHS this month"? I haven't seen new pics. :(

thptpth said...

Not exactly. It's more that I'm not taking as many pictures of him these days, so there haven't been enough to really justify a new batch. I'll send some more out at 15 months.