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.








Friday, January 30, 2015

Up For A Third Term . . .

I went down to the County Office Building yesterday and signed up to run for a third term as your West Lafayette City Councilman for District #2. 

Here's the first thing you need to know:

THE COUNCIL DISTRICT BOUNDARIES HAVE CHANGED


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:

I LOVE THIS JOB

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:

NEIGHBORHOODS LIKE OURS REGULARLY DISAPPEAR. 

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.





Sunday, January 25, 2015

Smitty's . . .

Our first home in West Lafayette back in 1985 was a small brick house on the west side of Northwestern Ave. Smitty's was our pantry. There was at least one moment of terror on each trip to the store. How fast can you push a stroller across four lanes of traffic? Smitty's was close, friendly. My recollections of the store bring back memories of my young daughters and bulk gummie bears.


Smitty's "Foodliner" closed in 2005.  Across Lindberg Rd.,The Family Inn came down in 2008 to make way for the Champion Center, then the Point at Northwestern, then Faith West. The Lor Corporation floated a plan for the Smitty's site in 2014. Now 1812 Northwestern will boast a Family Express gas station/convenience store. 

The minute the tanks go in the ground, one county official humorously suggested, the City of West Lafayette will have it's newest commercial redevelopment site. No one believes a second gas station is the "highest and best" use of the corner.

Could the outcome have been different? Sure.

In hindsight, a land use plan for the area might have helped. More patience on the part of the city development folk. Less trust in developers' promises. Seven years of work on the corner have gotten us a tax-exempt church dormitory and a gas station.

In the near term, two things might have happened at 1812 Northwestern that did not:

1) The city might have used its long-standing relationship with the Nichols family to seek a better outcome. Jack Nichols Sr. bought Smitty's in 1972. Jack Nichols Jr. celebrated the store's place in the community at its closing. Who was talking to the Nichols brothers? What happened here?

2) In 1998 the Redevelopment Commission purchased the Sear's "Levee" property to guarantee that  it would not become a storage site for "port-a-potties". The Smitty's property was incorporated into an expanded TIF district in 2012. Given the city's interest in a Northwestern Ave. "gateway" and the obvious development "flux", should the redevelopment commission have been involved here?

I have an incredible amount of sympathy for the folks along Northwestern Ave., in Hills and Dales and Northwestern Heights. I have spent the last six years on city council wrestling with the realities of the city's growth on behalf of my New Chauncey neighbors. I have had the benefit of a strong neighborhood association, and the dependable help of the likes of Jay McCann and Carl Griffin.

We all need to take an interest in the tedious mechanics of city government and the Area Plan Commission. We should realize too the very real limits West Lafayette has as a community.


Friday, May 30, 2014

West Lafayette: A Class Two City

So little changes with the City of West Lafayette's move from a Class 3 to a Class 2 city that it is hard to work up much energy around the shift in status. The city attorney's memorandum in support of Mayor Dennis's proposal is five pages of "not much happens".

Here are the notable changes:

There will be two more city council members. Our current five district - two at-large member council becomes a six district - three at-large member council. Better representation for more people is a good thing.

Personally, the current post-annexation council map has me representing the Hovde Hall fountain.








I would rather get the top half of North Chauncey back; Meridian and Robinson too. A new sixth council district would make that possible.


Professionally, I would hope the new "District Six" would be a (mostly) student district. My job includes pushing Purdue students beyond self-interest and corporate utility into an appreciation of community and a participation in the political process. Governing is difficult, but government is good. The West Lafayette political community should model young adult inclusion in government.

The council president gets a job. The council president chairs Class 2 council meetings.
Ann Hunt has chaired numerous pre-council and council meetings and the republic still stands.

The Clerk/Controller job is split. The city clerk would be elected and the city gets a CFO hired by the Mayor. This would seem to be a decent management move in any case, given the increasing complexity of city finances. The current arrangement is not conducive to any one person's physical or mental health.

West Lafayette gets two more spots on the Area Plan Commission. From two to four; the APC membership expands from 17 to 19. This should better reflect the growing urbanization of Tippecanoe County. I think the APC is important. I like this.

We get the Playground Tax money. But we will find ways to offset this revenue loss ($68,000) to the schools. The school corporation has no objection to this change.

The biggest change that comes with this administrative move is a change in our self-understanding. With the annexation of Purdue, with the completion of US #231, with the redevelopment of State St., and, I would add, with a new interest in land-use, historic preservation, and an urban core, the city of West Lafayette is now bigger, different, and, we all hope, better. This move acknowledges that evolution.

I will vote for Ordinance #17-14.