Thursday, July 5, 2012

Comment about UPDC concerning Pizza Luce Varience

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012
Dear Mr. Hammer and Ms. Wanner,
I am the home owner at
1168 Dayton Ave.
I have lived at that residence since 1983, 29 years. I am one of many neighbors still opposed to the BZA decision on December 27, 2011 to grant the variances for the Pizza Luce (PL) proposed parking lot at 1170 Selby and the City Council's subsequent denial of our appeal in that matter. Throughout my citizen participation in this process, I witnessed what I can only describe as misuses of power by the UPDC, the district council that represents me, whose mission is stated: "UPDC is your portal to city, county, and state officials. Our mission is to provide opportunities for you to participate in planning and decision-making that affects your neighborhood."
I'd like to comment on how that mission seemed to be corrupted in this particular matter. I attended all of these meetings listed below, except the Feb. 1, 2012 one.
In December 2011, the community found out, after the fact, and without any notification to us, that the UPDC had recommended to BZA that the variances to the proposed PL lot at 1170 Selby be approved, saying there would be no neighborhood objection. In reality, the board has known that neighbors had been objecting to many of Pizza Luce's practices since the restaurant's opening in 2006. This looked to us to be a deliberate attempt to circumvent our input.
At the 12/27/11 BZA meeting (Zoning board file no. 11-306845), where PL was asking for the variances, many of us submitted comments, were in attendance, and testified in opposition. Twelve letters and a petition with 62 signatures opposing the variances were received by BZA; only one letter of support was received and no one, besides PL, was in attendance supporting the variances.  Despite this, BZA approved the variances. I believe the recommendation given by the UPDC...recommendations for which the citizenry had no input whatsoever...had institutional weight and unduly swayed the board. We filed an appeal.
Thereafter, many of us attended the next UPDC full board meeting on January 4, 2012 to ask why we had not been given notice of the UPDC recommendations and to state that we opposed it. The board decided that the Land Use Committee would revisit this issue at their meeting on January 10, 2012.
At the January 10th meeting, 12 to 15 opposition neighbors attended, including me. Many stated their positions and an impassioned letter from the adjacent property owners to 1170 Selby outlining their serious objections was read aloud. Only one resident spoke in support of the variances. Known also at that meeting was that many of the opposition neighbors had submitted comments and attended the December 27, 2011 BZA hearing.  At that meeting, a motion to withdraw support of the variances required for the parking lot was proposed and passed, with a community meeting called for January 31, 2012.
In anticipation of that meeting, UPDC finally distributed very widespread notice to the neighborhood and the meeting was heavily attended. There were a couple of neighbors who have had parking shortage beefs for awhile (unrelated to PL)  who commented that parking was needed generally in the neighborhood but the majority in attendance were neighbors in opposition who expressed concerns about the dangerous conditions of the parking lot, the increase in traffic, noise, and air pollution, that PL had torn down a building in our neighborhood for very little gain, the lack of communication from PL and the concern the parking lot would lead to expansion of the restaurant. At times, it was very contentious and hostile, not among the citizenry, but between some board members and opposition neighbors. Those board members led the charge that we were being "anti-business", "against Pizza Luce", and "bullies".  Rather than look at the issues we raised, it seemed to take on a tone of personal animosity. I did not leave thinking anything had been gained.
The next day, on February 1, 2012, I understand there was a full board meeting for which preferential notice was given to proponents Pizza Luce and the Lex-Ham Community Council but not to the  opponents, even though there had been no resolution to the matter. At that meeting I understand that the Land Use Committee Chair, who, as was customary, should have presented to the full board what her subcommittee had decided on January 10th, i.e. the decision to withdraw support for the parking lot, instead chose to ignore her committee's motion and the neighborhood opposition and quickly introduced a personal motion in a written summary to support the parking lot and oppose the appeal filed by neighbors. That seemed highly improper.

That written summary was also very misrepresentative when it stated "there was wide agreement that Pizza Luce is an asset to the neighborhood", and  "viewed as a good neighbor", "Pizza Luce and the neighbors have agreed to continue reviewing suggestions for ways to improve pedestrian safety in the vicinity of the parking lot" and "The high resident turnout and constructive dialogue at the two community meetings on January 10th and 31st indicated to the UPDC that Pizza Luce and neighbors are ready and willing to continue working together to make the 1170 parking lot work as well as possible....

Based on the meetings I attended, it is hard to see how those conclusions were reached. They failed to acknowledge the very real opposition to the parking lot and essentially eliminated any incentive for PL to work with its neighbors. In fact, I believe I heard a council member say that the council had never made recommendations for something when so much opposition had been demonstrated. Why did the council continue to ignore the opposition citizenry? We did not agree to make the "parking lot work."

Because of this improper handling and misrepresentation of what really occurred at the meetings so far, five UPDC members, as per the bylaws, called for a special meeting to revisit the process. In anticipation of that meeting held on March 7, 2012, I wrote a letter, addressed to the UPDC president, expressing my concerns about the UPDC handling of this matter...questioning the pattern of not notifying us, why we were seemingly being ignored and continually misrepresented. Others wrote letters as well.

About 30 opposition neighbors attended that meeting. The process was outlined as such: twenty minutes to present their case for reconsidering the board action from February 1, 2012; after the initial 20 minutes, discussion will be open to the full board; and there will be no public testimony.
Our letters were suppressed and we were not allowed any opportunity to speak, apparently in violation of the bylaws, but we listened politely. And it was shocking what we heard.

The 5 minority board members made their case for why the process had seemed improper. One said that when mistakes have been made, don't we as a board want to correct this? He pointed out the large group of neighbors who had shown up; that the board should want the community to be involved and engaged. Another in the minority distributed a spreadsheet she had spent considerable time creating that listed the number of times opposing neighbors had written letters or attended meetings over the course of this process, clearly showing just how much more opposition there had been than favoring and distributed this spreadsheet to the members. One in the minority read from some of our letters, since they had been suppressed.

After the allotted time was up for the minority, several other members of the board started to attack them. One blasted them for asking to see the board's financial disclosures. (So they don't want to be transparent? The books are public record. What do they have to hide? Everyone has a right to see the accounts.) One said they were "selfish" for calling this special meeting. (How is it "selfish" to want to represent the people in the community which is the sole purpose of a district council's existence?) One particularly influential member began with a ridiculous recitation of a poem, taking up 20 to 30 minutes of valuable time, and then blamed the minority for the unrelated departure of some other board members and worried that this would alienate the city council ward member.  Then the president turned on one of the minority members with a vitriolic outburst no one could believe and said he had been wrong to line up with the opposing neighbors and wrong to have tried to see the books and then she suggested he resign. (My 15-yr-old daughter turned to me and said, "Did she just ask him to resign?") This happened in front of all of us! Later, the minutes that had been delegated to an aide to be written, mentioned none of this... a colossal whitewashing.   

To my mind, the few board members who have tried to keep our representation in good stead throughout this process have acted with the utmost integrity, transparency and adherence to the bylaws and decency, but it has been obvious to me that the majority of the UPDC has sought to ignore, circumvent, and pervert the process and then harass, intimidate and punish those on the board who tried to fix it. Unfortunately, our main issue of trying to prevent the Pizza Luce parking lot at 1170 Selby was perverted with it. Our cause suffered because of the lack of integrity and outright unabashed corruption the UPDC has shown. It is clear that the climate on the present board is not one of representation of its district. I see dynamics of a powerful cabal on that board who bully other members into line or to quit. I don't know who would want to serve on that board. I tell people now that regardless of the issue, whether you agreed with our opposition to PL's parking lot or not, the process by the UPDC was what was wrong and that it could happen again with any other issue. The council didn't help us; they completely hindered us. It is my belief that this particular council is broken and that they should be reprimanded for their improprieties in this matter.

Ms. Wanner: I was at the meeting of 4/4/12, where you offered to get comments from all. I understand the council has not facilitated a way for the citizenry to do that so I hope this letter is ok.

Janet Lotzer