Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Something Fishy in Outlaw City

At last night's City Council meeting on the overlay district zoning change for the Town center Project, 30 people spoke against the zoning change, the Sinex project, and for due process, many noting unethical and illegal elements in the process which has gotten the amendment this far. Only 8 people, many of whom were interested parties, spoke in favor of the project and against due process. I deposited a small sardine on the table in front of Mayor Weinberger, but he has obviously lost his sense of smell for fishiness if he ever had one. He just rumpled up his nose and continued to tell big fish stories about how great this project will be. Did the Council respond to its constituents and send the amendment back to the Planning Commission so they could finish their job, so they could take care not to enable spot zoning, so they could, as legally required by VT law, rule on whether the new amendment is in compliance with Plan BTV? The Progressives present, Max Tracy, Selene Colburn, and Sara Giannoni (Jane Knodell was out recovering from an operation) argued eloquently for this conscientious move. Councilor Paul, however, representing the Mayor's position, made a motion to send the amendment on to the ordinance committee, but with a time certain return date, followed by the unusual request that the entire Council would then have three work sessions to go over whatever the ordinance committee (consisting of Tracy, Bushor, and probably Kurt Wright, two of whom we know to be critical of either the project and/or the process) had done. To those of us who did not know how irregular that was, it might have seemed like a fine idea (except that the Planning Commission was not done with their work and the amendment was in Council's hands on false and illegal premises!); but, in fact, this move was calculated to take the power out of the rightful hands of the appointed ordinance committee and disperse it among other councilors who are in favor of the zoning change and see no problems with the process. Councilor Colburn noted, referring to the up-ending of usual process, that she had never seen anything of this kind in her four years on Council. The Planning Commission has not finished their work, she said, and moved that the Council postpone sending the amendment to their ordinance committee until such time as the Planning Commission has completed their due diligence. The rush to abandon the process, she added, has been created by the timeline of one developer, not the timeline of the Planning Commission, not of the people. City Attorney Blackwood and Mayor Weinberger disagreed, claiming that the Planning Commission had already done what was required by law, neglecting to mention that in fact David White had done what it was required that the Planning Commission themselves do, actually in dereliction of the law. The mayor argued that what the Planning Commission had left undone was only extra. Since David White once again misrepresented the Planning Commission position and none of them were present, an unwitting observer might think the Mayor was right. Mr. White asserted that the amendment "comes at the recommendation of the Planning Commission". The Planning Commission, however, does not know it has recommended anything. They persist in thinking they are sending comments, without approval or disapproval of the amendment to the Council. Mr. White allows them to think that is what they are doing, while claiming without their consent that they are recommending the amendment. Incredible that no one stands up and starts to scream. Why are we so well behaved in the face of such utter dishonesty and derailing of honorable process?!
In any case Sara Giannoni, Max Tracy, and Selene Colburn repeated that they would like to have all the comments from the PC before the ordinance committee should be asked to look at the amendment. No mention was made of the physical model. Joan Shannon argued against sending the amendment back to the planning commission and in favor of requiring that the full Council go over whatever the ordinance committee does, saying there will be more time and more due diligence, not less as Councilors Colburn and Tracy said. Councilor Bushor, arguing against the time certain requirement and the added work sesssions, noted that the practice of sending issues to small committees was in fact the best practice and had been implemented by the council for a reason. Councilor Tracy, who is, as mentioned above, on the ordinance committee with Councilor Bushor, called further foul by noting that he had only just heard about the time certain nature of the motion to send the amendment to ordinance committee. He had not been informed of this irregularity. "No one called me, " he noted. It was "poor form" to make a motion out of keeping with routine practices without alerting people on the committees it involves. Tracy also noted that the fact that the Commission and the Council were being forced to complete this change on the developer's timeline is evidence for spot zoning.
The motion of Councilor Colburn to send the entire amendment back to the Planning Commission was voted down, 7 to 3, with only Colburn, Giannoni and Tracy in favor. In contrast, the motion by Karen Paul to send the amendment on to the ordinance committee with the irregular requirement that they get it back by a certain time (August 15th, for three special full council work sessions, culminating in a public hearing on September 12th), was approved 7/3, with Colburn, Giannoni, and Tracy the only no votes. What happened to Councilor Bushor, who had registered so much concern about the process and its irregularities? Why was she unwilling to stand with the three conscientious voices on the Council? If she had voted with the trio of conscience, the motion would not have passed since such a suspension of rules requires a 2/3 majority. As to the rest of the gang, there is no telling why they continue to disregard their constituents, the law, due process, ethics. But we will remember come election time. Some are calling Burlington Outlaw City. It feels like the wild west, but not nearly as fun. It makes us all want to just retire to some speakeasy instead of trying speak with difficulty to people who have no ears to hear either their constituents' voices or the voice of law and due diligence. But we must continue, because there is really no where else for us to move if they ruin this city. Planning Commission meeting TONIGHT downstairs at City Hall, probably room 12, at 6. They will be discussing the comments they want to send, after the fact, to the ordinance committee. Public Comments welcome, but probably disregarded if drowned out by developers carrying flimsy promissory notes for millions they may not even have.

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