Wednesday, June 3, 2009

'Grab your torch and pitchfork!' -Shrek

As part of my internship, I sometimes attend city zoning meetings. Being an intern, I don't actively participate in the proceedings, but it is a learning experience to see how zoning ordinances and variances are handled in a historic city. Most of the time, it's rather boring, but last night....well, let me just tell you about last night.

Without going into too many specifics, let's just say a neighborhood association got their panties in a twist because a business was requesting that the zoning for a building in the neighborhood be changed from residential to office use. The building was never used as a residence in its almost 100 year existence. Despite the fact that there are other commercial buildings sprinkled throughout the neighborhood, this particular business was not receiving a warm welcome. Some neighbors wanted to turn the building into a residence, but its open interior layout is ideal for an office/studio space.

Representatives from boths sides of the argument spoke at the meeting. What should have been an open-and-shut case turned into a "Peyton Place" melodrama that lasted for over two hours. I half expected some of the angry neighbors to pull torches and pitchforks out of their designer purses. Since I didn't have to be there, I suppose I could have left. But it was like watching a train wreck, and I had to know the outcome.

Early on, the opposers were given a verbal slap on the wrist by one of the board members for rudely grumbling and harumphing too loudly. Keep in mind that 95% of these people are over 50 years old. The lack of maturity and respect displayed was astounding.

While there were many hysterical speeches made, perhaps my favorite involved a young-ish man who began crying because he wanted this building to be turned into a residence. Apparently his buddy can't afford living downtown, but might be able to if this building was put on the market. Then they'd be neighbors! Ooooh goody! Now, I consider myself to be a mature and professional adult, but I could not contain my giggles during this pathetic display. I wanted to explain to him that his friend should make more money if he wants to live in this area. Heck, I'd love to live there too, but guess what? I don't have the money so it ain't gonna happen. The city doesn't run a charity for people who can't afford to live in big houses.

Nobody seemed to care that the historic integrity of this building would be severely compromised if its open interior was chopped up into small rooms for a residential use. I suppose stubborn ignorance is an inevitable thing when working in the field of preservation. Understandably people will look out for themselves and what they want, but it would be nice if they would try to consider what is good for the community as well. Downtown neighborhoods can be enhanced by incorporating small amounts of commercial use. Those who want the honor of living in a historic district need to understand that these neighborhoods have always included commerical buildings, and that diversity is what makes them special. If you want to live in a strictly residential area, move to the suburbs.

Thankfully, the zoning board sided with the business and allowed for the change from residential to office use. I find it ironic that despite the overwhelming response from the neighborhood, their petulant display worked against rather than for their cause. Perhaps a lesson in brevity and eloquence would have been beneficial to this angry mob. Next time, leave your pitchforks at home.

1 comment:

  1. I so loved this post--fascinating how people will behave. Probably you should run for the city zoning board so you can dispense common sense like Simon Cowell or Judge Judy :)