Tuesday, September 29, 2015

League of Women Voters Q&A - 2015

What relevant talents, skills and experience do you bring to the Council?
I have served the Second District for the last eight years. During those eight years I have done all that I can to help preserve the New Chauncey neighborhood. Iconic multi-class, multi-generational, near campus neighborhoods like ours routinely disappear. With the New Chauncey Historic District and the New Chauncey Land Use Plan, we hope to encourage restoration, provide information on how to do so, and then help protect the investments of the home owners who have contributed to the historic character of the neighborhood. Given the recent fire death in our neighborhood, I have argued for student health and safety improvements, focusing on code enforcement and the inspection of rental properties. I serve as the council representative to the Go Greener and Historic Commissions. Both the Historic Preservation Commission and the Go Greener Commission are chaired by young Purdue graduate students. This kind of inter-generational involvement is the real benefit of the Purdue annexation.

What is the greatest challenge facing the city? As a council member how will you address it?
How will we deal with the redevelopment of the State St. corridor and the development of the US #231 corridor? Both of these projects are of a kind and scale that we have not tried before, and will be a real test both of our imagination and our management skills. I will continue to lobby for these to be planned developments open to public comment. I am particularly sensitive to the impact of a "re-imagined" State St. on the New Chauncey neighborhood. 

When is tax increment financing useful for the city and when is it not useful?
Given the property tax caps enshrined in the Indiana constitution, there is no other way for the city to fund both significant infrastructure projects and routine capital expenses. The city grows more dependent on TIF dollars with each passing year. My question is not about the usefulness of TIF dollars, but whether the older residential neighborhoods like my own will see any direct benefit from being included in a TIF district. If you like acronyms, let's talk about "PILOTS"; Payments In Lieu of Taxes". Only Westminster pays a "PILOT". Thank you to them! How can our many non-profits pay their fare share for city services?

What are the challenges and advantages of being a level 2 city?
One challenge is that we are a class #2 city operating with a class #3 size staff. Collecting taxes a year in arrears means we have not yet been able to "staff up". We also have a very special partner in this annexation. Purdue is . . . large. We are not. What if Purdue begins to "out-source" public services to the city? How will that affect our budget? The advantage of annexation is our ability to get to the "western lands" beyond Purdue where there are commercial opportunities not capped at 1%. An advantage is in our receipt of those taxes distributed per capita to local governments. The population increase helps here. The philosophical gain is our ability to interest young adults in local politics. The only district council race where three candidates are running is the new District #3; the "student" district. That is worthy of note.

What factors need to be considered in choosing a site for and the construction of a new city hall? How will citizen input be gathered?
I would rather talk about the number, location, and purposes of our municipal buildings. What do we need? Where do we need it? Clearly with annexation the city's population center has moved south and west. Look at the new council districts map. If "State St." is successful, we will have a new "downtown". The administrative centers for this community currently line up along Columbia and State Streets, from Hovde Hall, past the County Courthouse, to Lafayette City Hall. These are all arguments for keeping our "City Hall", our bureaucratic offices, at Morton. But "City Hall" as a front porch for the city; that could be somewhere else. A new community center designed to do those things we like to do, that could be somewhere else. We need not limit the conversation to what is rapidly becoming an anachronistic view of a "City Hall".

A Third Term :)

We are getting closer to the November 3rd municipal election !

Here's the first thing you need to know:


Old/Current Council District #2
New/Class 2 Council District #2
New Council District #2 Detail

Once West Lafayette became a class #2 city, the number of council districts increased from five to six, and the "at-large" positions went from two to three. The Second District "moved" south and west. The city's population overall has moved south and west.

Here's the second thing you need you know:


We have done some good things together over the last four years.

1) The New Chauncey Land Use Plan

Technically an amendment to the Tippecanoe County "Comprehensive Plan", the New Chauncey Land Use Plan was passed by the city council in May of 2013. Work on the plan had begun four years earlier (May 2009), and became more timely as Wang Hall and 720 Northwestern became part of the West Lafayette street scape. Many thanks to Carl Griffin, Jay McCann, and a host of others who persevered through a long and sometimes bitter process. It is essential to the preservation of our multi-class, multi-generational near campus neighborhood.

2) The New Chauncey Historic Preservation District
While Lafayette had created a Historic Preservation Commission in 1993, and while New Chauncey had been a National Historic District since 2002, this neighborhood enjoyed none of the protections or city planning assistance available to it in state law. Beginning in September of 2010, we worked to create the first West Lafayette Historic Preservation Commission (May 2011). We established boundaries for the city's first historic district (New Chauncey) in 2013. The commission is chaired by our neighbor Susan Curtis.

3) Student Health and Safety
The death of Scott Notary in a November 2013 fire at 111 W. Lutz, and the August 2014 WLFI report on the appalling conditions at a B&K rental property at 410 N. Salisbury, are a reminder of the special obligation the city has for its student community. I publicly and repeatedly pressed city officials to examine the role the city rental inspection program in the fire death. The city negotiated a $10,000 fine for occupancy violations with the owners.  My thanks to the Purdue students who have been my 'day job' for 30 years, and recent alumna Emily Bunder, for making me particularly sensitive to these twin issues in a city whose major for-profit industry is rental ownership and management.

Here's the final thing you need to know:


There is always something to work on. Here's a list of issues for the next four years. Let me know your favorites. Suggest one of your own.

- neighborhood redevelopment; zoning, overlay zoning, and the land use plan . . .
- rental signs; Councilor Dietrich and I will work together here . . .
- municipal buildings; how many, where, and what should they do  . . .
- State St. Corridor; what will it mean for New Chauncey . . .
- TIF money; we all live in a TIF -  will the residents ever see any benefit; streetlights?
- "PILOTS" Payments In Lieu Of Taxes Thanks Westminster ! The rest of you ?

It has been a privilege to serve as your Councilman for the last eight years.
I am asking for your vote again this November.

Monday, August 3, 2015

New Chauncey Land Use Zoning - A Brief History

Six years ago Dr. Carl Griffin had a very good idea. He suggested that the West Lafayette City Council request a land use plan for the New Chauncey Neighborhood from the Tippecanoe County Area Plan Commission. I was happy to take up that work. The idea gained real urgency with the development of the peripatetic Wang Hall, and then the arrival of Mark Muinzer's "720 Northwestern" project.

Cities always pick "big" over "little". But back in those years, with Jim Schellinger at CSO architects and with Joe Hornett at "PRF" (Purdue Research Foundation), we were able to imagine a  "South Bend" style large scale reinvestment in Purdue's near-campus neighborhood. We were even going to fly on the Purdue plane to other places in the country where such programs were already in place.

Such an initiative would help preserve historic homes of the 1920's and 30's. It would help preserve a multi-class, multi-generational, near campus neighborhood that hearkens back to a time when the American university was a residential community, rather than an industry. It would, by allowing a mix of residential densities, serve as a counterpoint to the neighborhood segregation by class and income that is a feature of modern real-estate and the bane of urban sociologists. 

It was ambitious. It would make both Purdue and West Lafayette look good. The re-investment plan even had an admittedly awkward name; "New Chauncey Rebound".

But university administrations change. University administrators live other places.

Some few years later, West Lafayette and Purdue have now turned their attention to State St. This is where the university's, the city's, the foundation's and the redevelopment commission's "TIF" monies will go. They will be joined by whatever "rented" money can be found. I have no objection to this ambitious project. It will be the first moment of a new West Lafayette.  I will try and secure some funding from the Redevelopment Commission through the City Engineer's office for a pilot project involving safety improvements along my neighborhood's main street, Salisbury Ave.

But the major redevelopment imagined in advance of the New Chauncey Land Use Plan is unlikely. The neighborhood's one millionaire moved away. The sweeping plans sketched in the early Hayes Triangle Project are gone. "Fuse" was cut in half. The "big news" on Northwestern Ave. is now the Family Express. There is no capital available to do big things. Which perhaps makes the point of the land use plan moot. It was meant to ameliorate "big"; to make the inexorable "big" bearable. "Big" looks less likely.

It could now reasonably be argued that the city, that New Chauncey, should not give up any R-1 zoning, and that this proposal should be defeated. All the predictable developments we would likely see could easily come to us as a "PD" or planned development as they have in the past. I am not making that argument here

While the land use plan was proceeding in fits and starts, in 2011 the city began to independently build the West Lafayette Historic Commission, and in 2013 the commission mapped the New Chauncey Historic District. I was happy to help move both of those ordinances forward. The Historic Preservation Commission would help preserve historic homes of the 1920's and 30's. It would help preserve a multi-class, multi-generational, near campus neighborhood that hearkens back to a time when the American university was a residential community, rather than an industry. It would encourage, inform, then protect the investments of little guy homeowners.

The Land Use Plan narrative was finally completed in 2013. The rezoning before city council now in August of 2015 is an attempt to create a technical response to the land-use narrative. The form-based code which will overlay the district is in process. There will be input into the code both from city staff and our local historic district folks. There will be some overlap in both codes with respect to building form. The interaction between the massive and comprehensive land use plan, these and possible further zoning changes, the Historic Preservation Commission, and the yet-to-come overlay zone will play out as experience builds. Crucially, the Historic Preservation Commission must approve any demolition in most of New Chauncey.

So while this process has had less immediate benefit than was first envisioned, the land use plan and these zoning changes remain worth doing. The overlay form based code is worth doing. The historic preservation commission is worth doing. It is ambitious to hope that they will all work well together.  But there is real opportunity here for us in both preservation and redevelopment, if we can think 10 or 20 years out. In the end, it will be a way of doing for the middle class what gated communities, what golf course communities, have done for the upper class: preserve the character of a neighborhood. All this may have no impact immediately an Katy and Peter Bunder. But it will be important for the people who buy our house, and important for their children.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Chauncey Rezone - Land Use Part #2

Indy Star columnist Matthew Tully  (he's the Dave Bangert of the Big City) recently wrote that there is some wisdom to be found in the political process. This runs counter to the common notion that everybody who has a nameplate and a comfortable chair at a public meeting ought to be drowned in a bathtub.

Quoting a state legislator, Tully went on that the biggest issue facing the state may be our lack of ambition. There are real opportunities out there for us, but unless we can think 10 or 20 years out, we are going to be left even further behind than we are now in Indiana.

This rezone is the second part of an ambitious three part project to preserve and enhance the New Chauncey neighborhood.  It will help preserve historic homes of the 1920's and 30's. It will help preserve a multi-class, multi-generational, near campus neighborhood that hearkens back to a time when the American university was a residential community rather than an industry. It would, by allowing a mix of residential densities, serve as a counterpoint to the neighborhood segregation by class and income that is a feature of modern real-estate and the bane of urban sociologists.

Things have changed in the six years since this project began. That is a narrative for another time. But this six years worth of work on a neighborhood land-use plan, a companion rezone, and an overlay design zone, is worthy of the 11 - 0 vote the APC gave "Z2619" last night. 

This ambition of the City of West Lafayette may not impact the Bunder's all that very much now. But it will sure help the people who will one day buy our house.


New West Lafayette District #2 Boundary

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"206" West Stadium

Tuesday evening (12 May 2015) the West Lafayette Historic Preservation Commission approved the construction of a new "kiddie condo" at 206 W. Stadium. The three bedroom, three bath house is to be built on property owned by Plonski LLC  (Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA). It will be built my Michael Plonski and "owned" by the 18 year old son of the current owner. By now we all understand how this pattern works in our neighborhood both as a commercial investment and as a device for tax avoidance.

It could have been worse.

Put to one side any observations you may have regarding the maintenance of the Plonski owned property next door at 204 W. Stadium. (Mr. Plonski blamed that on his management company, Livesay Rentals). I will ignore any confrontation I might have seen between the parent of a student living in 204 and someone who I can only assume was the property manager for Plonski LLC over the condition of the building. I will not report on the repairs the parent did himself. You need not hear the dead animal stories told by the students living there.

Nor will I revisit the 1997 battle with the APC over R1U (U = "urban") vs R1 zoning. It was not a good idea. We lost. It hurt us here.

Instead follow me into a discussion of the current limits of an R1U zone and the limits of the Historic Preservation Commission.

The lot at "206" is questionable. At 30 ft. it does NOT meet the lot width requirement for R1U (40ft.). Nor does it allow for the 12ft. building separation that should take place in an R1U district. BUT it was approved by an APC planner because it met (barely) the "substandard lot" "lot coverage" requirement of 4000 sq.ft. ("206" measures 30ft. x 135ft or 4050 sq.ft.)  Apparently the garage is not involved in the calculation.The city then reviewed the permit to see that the "lot coverage, setback and building height standards, parking, and bufferyard requirements" were met. Mr. Plonski was then free to build something.

They hit the application with a rubber stamp.

I became involved
on April 26th. when the "206" sign went up and construction was about to begin. I wrote the Mayor, the City Engineer, and the Director of Development. I quoted the following from the Historic Preservation Ordinance:

b.  The establishment of a historic district shall occur in two (2) phases.
During the first phase, which continues for a period of three (3) years from the date any
map of the Local Historic District is adopted, a certificate of appropriateness is required
for only the following activities: the DEMOLITION of any building; the moving of any
building; and any NEW CONSTRUCTIONS of a principal building or accessory building or
structure subject to view from a public way. 

I said No permit for this house can be issued, nor a demolition take place without an action of the Historic Preservation Commission. 

Then I threatened to set my hair on fire. The building permit was rescinded.

The city had relied on the applicant to self report that the construction was in an historic district; to tick that box. That didn't work. The city should have been able to identify this address as being within the Historic District and then refer this new construction to the Historic Preservation Commission for a Certificate of Appropriateness.

But due diligence on the part of permit applicants or their agents is not an unreasonable expectation. The New Chauncey National Historic District came into existence in 2002. Our local ordinance was adopted after numerous amendments in two stages over two years (2011-2013) requiring four votes of the city council. It's on the New Chauncey Neighborhood signs!

To his credit, Mr. Plonksi then began a series of meetings with the Certificate of Appropriateness  subcommittee of the Historic Preservation Commission. He modified the initial design which appears above. He balked at removing the vinyl siding from the plan and argued that because there was already vinyl siding on W. Stadium Ave., he was in compliance with the ordinance.

True, there is vinyl siding on W. Stadium. But it is not representative of the historic district as a whole. It is also likely that there are over-occupied houses on W. Stadium Ave., trash cans without lids on W. Stadium Ave., and smoke alarms without batteries on W. Stadium Ave. But not every practice on the street should be emulated.

At a public hearing, both the Certificate of Appropriateness Committee and the full Historic Preservation Commission unanimously rejected the Plonski design submission. Had they accepted the Plonski drawings, they would have lowered our standards below those set by the Dept. of the Interior (see the 2003 reconstruction of 200 W. Stadium (below) built according to those standards) and below those more recently negotiated by the Area Plan Commission with Morris Rentals (Fowler Ave.) and done with the neighborhood land use plan in mind and in anticipation of the neighborhood overlay zone to come.

Mr. Plonski removed the vinyl. The plan was approved. 

The process was very messy. Apparently nobody got the memo that the Historic District exists. Maybe nobody sent the memo. The resource guide for the district is nearly but not yet complete. We have been borrowing from the Department of the Interior and the City of Lafayette. We borrowed Kurt Wahl from the City of Lafayette to provide technical support. No one on the Historic Preservation Commission had ever done this before.  

We must get better before the full ordinance comes on line next year. We survived the first test of the historic preservation ordinance. It could have been better. It could have been worse.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Religious Freedom"

I was pleased to accept the Indiana Civil Liberties Union's invitation to be a member of their
April 1st. "First Wednesday" panel discussion on "The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) - What Impact Could It Have on Indiana." I am a "two-fer" in this conversation; a small time politician and a long time Episcopal (Anglican) priest. (The Anglican Church is the established or state church in England.)

Thirty years ago a friend at Washington and Lee University warned me about taking a job in Indiana. "You won't like it," he said. "It's a state of "second sons"." The professor's point being that the folks who went over the mountains to the Northwest Territories in the later part of the 18th. century were not likely to be in line to inherit the plantation, or the farm, or the wheelwright business. They were ambitious certainly, but also dispossessed by the economy of their time. Not the eldest son nor the favored child, but the second son. They would be joined by others dispossessed from Ulster, Scotland, and north England. Part of the baggage they took across the Appalachians was resentment.

Indiana's RFRA is not about religious freedom. It is the political exploitation of that current sense of dispossession and resentment that has become the Republican Party's unfortunate ace. Those people; those judges in Chicago, those judges in Washington, those people with their gay agenda, those African-Americans and OBAMA, those women and HILARY, those egg-heads, those . . . . . fill in the blank. . . . why are they here?  We are still better than them. We are holy. We will not be humiliated. Our white male Christian friends in the legislature will help us resist these outsiders.  We will make law.

Which is, ironically enough, why our founders disliked religion. They knew a history featuring decades of religiously tinged wars. Imperial Roman Catholicism with it's fleets and Catholic kings plotting the end of England. A terrifying Cromwell would use his "spiritual awakening" and his desire to be among "the congregation of the first born" to bring civil war to England. The Lord Protector would use his moral authority and his religious fervor to raise an army that would wreck three nations.

The people who taught our founders wanted out of the war's. Out from under the catechisms. They looked to the English Enlightenment, to the French Humanists, to the Scottish "New Lights", and to King William's (Latitudinarian) Bishops. They wanted a universal, natural, divine, moral principal. They would use jewelers terms like refinement and politeness (polish) for their moral discourse. They would eventually settle on sympathy, benevolence,
and Francis Hutcheson's "life, liberty and happiness", a turn of phrase Hutcheson would expand to oppose slavery and the legal subjugation of women. To the founders, it was the only practical course given the diverse nation they sensed they were creating.

Will the RFRA impact Lafayette or West Lafayette? Not much.
Randy Truitt will probably have an opponent in the next election cycle. West Lafayette will have to puzzle out the future of it's anti-bias ordinance. But Grey House Coffee Supply is not likely throw out it's gay patrons.  RFRA is about a conservative movement and it's totems. It is the political exploitation of a sense of dispossession and resentment that is routinely inflamed in national politics. Those who in this era see this protection of their civil religion as a victory, are making sure that the civil religion of the next age is no religion at all. Those state Republicans who have been so clumsy here, may rightly be asked what else in public policy have they gotten so badly wrong.