Friday, April 16, 2010

Putting My Mouth Where My Money Is

A lot of what passes for punditry here can seem rather abstract or remote from daily existence. I try to keep things tangible but it doesn't always work. Tonight, however, things couldn't have been more direct for me as far as politics and real life. As close as my own front door.

I just came in, at about 12:15 in the morning, from a local city commission meeting that started at 6pm. The issue at hand involved the proposed rezoning and land use of a golf course, one of which's holes is effectively an extension of my front yard. My kids play there daily after the last round of duffers pass through.

Like so many other businesses, golf as a business is not doing well these days (it is here that I will refrain from digressing into a George Carlin rant about golf courses and the land they waste). The owners of the course, longstanding and respected members of and employers in the community that I live, came up with a plan to close the lesser of the two courses in town, the one I live across from, in order to get financing to refurbish the main course on the other side of the main road. A decent enough plan under the circumstances. But sale of the individual course was not possible so they applied to have the land rezoned for a new use. The new use was primarily for residential construction. Without getting to the obvious details, folks in range of the course were outraged that new development was on the table in this era of extreme hardship and excess in the housing market. And I didn't want a new row of townhouses built a hundred feet away from my door over the course of the next several years.

I've never been to a city commission meeting and I didn't expect much. But after running a little late I came around the corner to see the city hall mobbed. But not entirely with the red shirt-wearing fellow protesters of the plan. No, there seemed to be many more people there in green shirts saying YES to the plan. I got a sinking feeling. It was a great deal for the company but my home value, already slashed in half since the peak in 2005, would likely take another ten percent hit the moment the plan was approved. Green space around here is a rare commodity and private land or not, the communities had a stake in keeping it that way.

The company's attorney gave an excellent presentation that made lots of good points about what to do with a piece of "defunct" green space. But suddenly one of the neighborhoods came through with an attorney representing our side and slice by slice proceeded to take down the previously unchallenged plan. Then the public comments came in, at which time, most of the green shirted folks suddenly disappeared. But those who remained became more real to me. They weren't paid shills for a corporate behemoth. They were the employees of a large but locally run family operation, and over 60 of them stood a good chance of losing their jobs if the plan failed.

I had a prepared statement for when my turn came along. It was a bit folksy, a bit sarcastic, and a bit analytical (just like this-a-here blogitty thang), but I was among the last to speak and I'd realized that most of my analytical points had been covered extremely well by our attorney. And it was closing in on 11:30 by then. After talking briefly with one of my neighbors, I hit on a change of approach. I still didn't come close to thinking there were any good reasons to approving this development plan, but I did realize that, regardless of the truth of the owner's claims of poverty, there were at least 60 people sitting there with me who would be hit hard by a losing decision. That was how I addressed the commission. In short, business is tough, but home values are tougher. Hard as it might be these days, folks who lose jobs can go anywhere to find another one. I can't move my house.

Surely my ego played a role, but the reporter from the local paper didn't run up to anyone to get their name except mine. If she runs my statement then I'll post a link as a post-script.

Suffice to say, going in, I thought this entire process was pretty well in the tank for the golf course owner long ago. He has genuinely solid and long connections to the town, and despite the 500 or so homeowners directly affected, this is a town of 60,000 in a region where development has always been the answer to all social ills. But we had to try.

Would ya believe it,,,, we WON!!! Unanimously at that. It really felt like democracy in action and a set of elected officials who appeared to change their minds over the course of the night. And finally, as happy as I was for myself and my neighbors, I feel for the employees of the golf course, a few of whom I caught choking back some sobs. And a strange thing,,, a feeling of community, not just with my neighbors, but with the folks who lost too. Some of them have worked at that course much of their adult lives. What I hope is that I and my neighbors can continue to work together to maintain what now seems like it will be one really big extended park, and be sure we can take care of it for ourselves, our kids, our city, and hopefully employ the folks who have always worked that space and kept it looking good. We were on opposite sides of a contentious issue. Now we must work together for all of us. Can we? Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

It is never Black and White.
At least for "real" people.
The "Glen Becks" of the world, however...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The fallacy of the false alternative. The Rack family business tried to slip a fast one in before the election that would require such land use changes by public vote. Hey their place needs some work, they like most social climbing types over the past 8 years or so have spent themselves to oblivion signing willy-nilly any manner of fraudlent service contract or financial instrument ... now the place is run down and then there's that course across the way even though they saw a business opportunity to development the property as townhouses & condos -- Well sir you are just about 15 years too late on that kind of number

Gravitar is being kind, not wanting to rub their country club noses in it, but coming in to the event tonight The Uber Groover himself, escort to the Profundus and videographer was hassled by the corporate jackboots the officer questioning me, not listening to reason, and the Uber Groover was thinging a quick tase would really ignite the crowd angrily shouting with their red or green shirts YES or NO! Oh the madness, the spectacle!!!

Was the fix in? it seemed so as the Mayor was exceptionally deferential and solicitous of the Rack family, things didn't look good as the final grandstanding by the commission was set in motion by the Mayor. The only way she could get away with this, IMO, was that she was equally deferential and respectful of everyone that spoke and was not about to have any darjeeling flinging about in her chamber of democracy!

For that madame Mayor I commend you; I also commend the entire City Council of Tamarac of doing right for the GENERAL welfare and not just for rich business interests. Gravitar Profundus was a giant, his orations, his profundity, it was all worthy of our lofty surroundings and high principles!

Michael said...

Fantastic news! Good to hear the mouse can still roar over the Tiger! We have a similar football being tossed around where I live but since it regards a Homeless Shelter pick the spot on Google Maps farthest from the center of town and you know already how the one here will end. The Gravirtar and company Triumphant, I salute you. As for the futer perhaps a committe of both sides could convene, consult with other towns that had such tranformnative dilemmas and find a Green and profitable plan for the area's future that may offer hope to those Employes being displaced. Further by seizing the moment to have a hand in controling the fate of the area events will have less of a chance pf controllg your neighborhood for a second time.remote2911

KwaveD said...

Thanks Bryan for encouraging me to join you at this event. I have never been to a city council meeting or any similar legislative meeting for that matter. At first we saw a see of green t-shirts in support of transmittal of the land use change. It seemed incongruous that any residents would want an additional 400+ housing units added to an already crowded western broward suburb. I can certainly understand why the Rack family that owns the 2 golf courses made their application -- it would provide much needed capital to improve their championship course and allow them to rid themselves of the less profitable executive course. It seemed to me to be a mini-bailout for a respected and monied interest in the community. The Rack family threatens to close both courses because in their view this was the only way they could stay in business. Well at what cost? The residents of Tamarac would have to suffer an increase in traffic and other additional stresses on their already stretched resources. It seemed, based on her solicitous and gratuitous comments about the Rack family that see would vote in favor of transmitting the application. But after the Rack family made their case, then one of the effected home-owner associations hired a lawyer who made a presentation with 3 experts, and then finally about 60 residents spoke, mostly against transmittal it was time for the commissions to cast their votes. Each commissioner in turn did their grandstanding comments and one after another they all voted against transmittal of the land use change. I think many of the effected homeowners were actually surprised that the vote in their favor and that they would retain their open passive spaces that provide for a higher quality of life for their families. There would be no new construction and all the pains that would bring to these settled communities.

The downside is what will the Rack family do? Will they actually close both courses? Perhaps they will close one and rehabilitate the championship course? Maybe they will sell the courses to someone with the capital to rehab the courses? There are 60 jobs at stake at the country club; hopefully those individuals will still have their jobs moving forward.