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Letter to the Editor: ‘What Next, City Council?’

To the Editor:

The Feb. 15 letter from the city manager describing the city’s plan to amend the zoning ordinance and re-vote the Waterfront Plan is an unfortunate example of things to come in city government. It’s hard to see this action as anything other than an insider power play. City Council will demonstrate by either a super majority or unanimous vote that the zoning code, as amended, and consequently the waterfront plan is beyond citizen challenge. Sure they have the votes, but do they have to be so blatant in their disregard for the interests of citizens of all parties now excluded from the political process?

The fact that City Council decided to take this action in executive session and then explain the unexplainable with a city manager letter crafted to appear like an action on behalf of the citizens is insulting. There is no reason to rush this process since a decision on all legal matters is due in less than two months. In the seven working days before their planned vote, our Planning Commission, with three brand new members, is tasked to consider and act on an extremely contentious and significant amendment to the zoning ordinance. Every neighborhood in the city will be impacted if property owners lose the right to protest changes to text amendments. As long as a text change slips through City Council on a 4-3 vote, any range of uses within the text can proceed without special consideration or protection for those most impacted.

Worse yet, our City Council, with a majority of new members, is asked to vote on the Waterfront Plan with no work sessions planned and no significant discussions with stakeholders. All council members expressed concerns with the plan during recent campaigns and nothing has changed in the plan. The haste strongly indicates this initiative is either a legal maneuver to make moot the Supreme Court case, a preemptive concession to developer concerns, or both.

The manager’s letter itself is a tacit admission of all the procedural mistakes the city made that will likely lead to a loss at court. The citizen’s protest petition was valid, submitted in a timely fashion, and applicable to zoning changes being considered in January 2012. The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) found their fellow citizens were correct and acted in good faith. The only delay to zoning decisions now is caused by the city itself. By dropping their appeal of the BZA’s decision, all amendments to city zoning could proceed immediately through the approval process.

There is too much development in the approved pipeline with years of implementation ahead to allow a monopoly on power to proceed relatively unchecked due to permissive zoning procedures, executive session shenanigans, and a corrosive consensus in the political arena. This new council is off to a very poor start leading many citizens to ask “What Next, City Council?”

Bob Wood