I am neither a builder nor an architect, but it certainly does baffle me when a city and its government decide to build on land that is unsuited for construction.
At the recent City Council meeting, the message is loud and clear — build because where there is space there is tax revenue and the planning and zoning commission will run interference for the council with 7-0 votes to set up the council’s 6-1 vote. (Mayor Allison Silberberg voted no to build – yes for the neighborhood.)
A geological report by Tony Fleming, geologist for the city, cautioned against construction in an area saturated with marine clay and stated the area was unsuited for building. Likewise, Mr. Simmons, the city’s resource manager challenged the need to build due to the removal of the tree canopy which would alter storm water passage and create issues with the neighbors downstream. The issue was lost on a technicality that the staff of planning and zoning saw nothing illegal in building in marine clay, or near a stream or removing 60-plus trees. The question to be asked — is it safe to build on marine clay and if, as Tony Fleming suggested, it is not safe, would residents be put in in danger?
The issues with marine clay are well known. The soil is porous and unstable due to the fact it shrinks and swells in response to moisture — moving and expanding foundations until there are landslides and cracks in foundations costing thousands of dollars to repair. A FOIA document revealed 21 homes in the Seminary Hill area have performed water proofing treatment to ward off flooding. Another woman spoke of a 28-foot long crack in the foundation of her house requiring more than $100,000-plus to fix. Is this a mere coincidence? I think not. The change in the topography at the proposed site is extensive due to construction and will have further downstream effects for other residences in Seminary Hill.
The issue here is the planning and zoning staff. During the Patrick Henry project as the Latham neighbors lamented for the loss of open space to a mammoth new school, the answer from the staff was: “Did you really think this open space would always be there?” For planning and zoning, the best space is no space; we will build until there is no space. We build for tax revenue.