By John Peters
April 13, 2014
To the Editor,
The City Board meeting Thursday of last week was a long one and ended badly for citizens. There were two highly controversial items to be voted on that were heavily opposed by the public. Nonetheless, a majority of our board approved both items. Apparently the “will of the people” doesn't carry much weight these days.
The first item approved will create a “Redevelopment Commission” that will be able to declare certain areas of town to be in need of major renewal. That sounds okay but it will also have the power of “Eminent Domain”, which can force owners to sell at a price not of their choosing. They will be able to borrow money, to dispose of properties they buy as they see fit, and assorted other things. That's a lot of power to give an appointed group with members yet unknown. They will not be elected by the people and will not be accountable to the people.
It takes a major issue to draw much of a crowd at city meetings but the two discussed in this letter all but filled the room for the past three meetings. Many raised questions and spoke at the podium. 100% of the questions and speakers were strongly against the Redevelopment Commission due to the power this group would have, and against the Franklin Rd. project as unfavorable to the neighborhood. No one has yet spoken in favor of either of these two matters.
Even so the Redevelopment Commission plan saw Brown, Yokeley, and Armbrister voting yes, which formed the 3-2 majority vote. Commissioner Yokeley did almost all the talking to pass it. I guess he felt he could water down the concerns expressed by so many citizens. He said whatever the Commission decided would also need approval from the Planning Board and then would require approval from the City Board itself. He failed to point out the Planning Board is also appointed rather than elected and also not accountable to the citizens. As to the protection he said the citizens will get from the City Board, this is the same City Board that ignored the clear and unanimous wishes of the citizens (not once but twice) in this same meeting. In the case of the second item (discussed below), it received City Board approval even after the Planning Board had voted 6-0 against it. Those actions don't make me feel protected.
The second item approved over heavy objection was the zoning change on a Franklin Rd. site. This will allow a big Charlotte developer to build a low to moderate income apartment building (46 units). Residents of the area are very concerned and fear damage to their property values and neighborhood quality.
This public hearing for zoning was handled differently from all others I've seen. We were told the law required it but others have not been done this way. Two Commissioners (Yokeley and Brinkley) recused themselves from voting because they had discussed it with citizens beforehand and said therefore they couldn't vote. That left only three votes and it passed 2-1. Cawley and Armbrister voted yes and Brown voted no. Commissioner Armbrister said in the paper he hoped the project wouldn't be built but had to vote yes because it was the law; yet Commissioner Brown voted no. It is hard to understand that the law can require a city to rezone an area if it doesn't want to. I think the city owes the public much more explanation of how the law applied in this case.
While I admit there could be some positives from a Redevelopment Commission I don't say the same for the Franklin Road project; but that is not the point in either case. The most important point and the point that should trump all others is that the citizens strongly expressed unanimous objections to both issues and yet both were passed. Maybe that's normal in Chicago and DC but not here.