Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

Instead I got an air conditioning garden.

I know that doesn't make sense, but, trust me, it will once you see the photos.

But let me back up to the beginning. Well, not so much the beginning but in the middle of the progress.

You see, as part of the requirements of the Kroger expansion, Kroger officials agreed to build an 8-foot fence (big of them, don't you think?) as a barrier to protect our adjacent neighborhood from the view of the expanded store, humungous parking lot, 14-bay gas station, the new road that has been cut which runs the entire length of all adjacent properties and the light, noise and fumes generated by all of the aforementioned.

But let's be realistic. I don't know if you can make it out or not, but look carefully at the photo below. I took the photo from my patio. It is the view my neighbors three and four doors down have from their homes and backyards. See the tan colored mass between the trees that looks like it is in their backyards? That's not a hazy sky. It is a massive 30-foot high and 200-foot wide sidewall for the expanded store.

Kroger Expansion - The Building

Eight foot high fence; 30-foot high wall. You do the math and tell me how effective that fence will be as a protective barrier.

So back to the fence building. The gas station...oh, excuse me, we're supposed to call a fuel center because this is an upscale, status project...was coming along pretty quickly and about a month ago Tom overheard the store manager tell another customer that they wanted to open the gas station in a couple of months. But, but, but... while they're working feverishly on the, er, fuel center, what about the fence that is supposed to be the protective barrier? There was no evidence that the construction of the fence had even begun.

Our neighbor emailed the director of the planning department to ask about the fence. The director emailed Kroger (not the store, it's representative). The senior construction manager responded to the director with the following:
"Hopefully everyone had/has the understanding that this project has to be “phased”. We cannot complete everything at the same time or wait until this is complete before doing something else. On most construction projects I have worked on, the landscaping [emphasis mine] is normally completed at the end of the project. Many other activities have to be completed prior to the “final touches”[emphasis mine].

I can assure you that the project will be completed per the PUD, that is, when we are 100% complete."
At the final city council meeting when the project was approved, the fence was a HUGE deal and it was agreed by all parties that it was, in fact, intended as a protective barrier, certainly not as landscaping or a finishing touch.

I know you wouldn't have guessed that I have a propensity for writing curt letters to federal, state and local representatives when I believe they have a responsibility to their constituents. Yeah. Guilty.

I was furious, so I sat down at my computer, penned the following email and sent it to every single person I could think of: the mayor, every single city council member, the planning commission, building code enforcement and the editor of the local newspaper. I am sharing it in it's entirety, except for the construction manager's telephone number...
"Mayor Townsell
Alderman Hawkins
Alderman Grimes
Alderman Vaught
Alderwoman Mehl
Alderman Rhodes
Alderwoman Smith
Alderman Jones
Alderwoman Whitmore

I realize this email will most likely fall on deaf ears. Mayor Townsell and the five council members who voted in favor of the Kroger expansion will have what Mayor Townsell called your “status store.” Construction is well underway.

First let me rant, which will probably negate the perfectly reasonable request I will make later, but as I sit here at my desk at 7:00am listening to roto-hammers, steel saws and heavy construction equipment beeping constantly, I am more frustrated than I can even articulate.

For the last few months, we and our neighbors have endured heavy construction noise from sun up to sun down, seven days a week. Construction noise starts no later than 6:30am and doesn’t stop until 6:30pm, sometimes even later. Friday night it continued until well after 7:00pm. Every single day. As I sit here at my desk, heavy construction equipment is working just beyond my back fence and I can feel my desk and laptop vibrating underneath my hands and I can hear my windows and cabinet doors rattling. The roof for the gas station that we were assured would not be visible from our yards, is nearly fully constructed and now clearly visible from my home in spite of the mature landscaping in my yard and that of my neighbor’s.

I have to wonder how those council members who voted in favor of the expansion would feel if they were my neighbors just three doors down. Kroger has expanded the small market to literally within a few feet of their backyards. Where there used to be a "buffer zone" sits the end of the building that will be the super center, a gray brick wall about 30 feet high and about 200 wide. The 8-foot fence Kroger finally agreed to build will not help my neighbors.

When we moved into our home five years ago, we went to great expense to construct a large covered patio, with lights and fans, and install a spa. When the weather permitted, even when it was raining, we enjoyed quiet mornings on the patio over coffee and quiet evenings over a glass of wine and dinner. Now our mornings and evenings are spent inside because the constant noise is so intolerable and our patio and patio furniture is covered with a perpetual layer of orange dirt, which has also settled on the seats and floor of our spa.

At one point, I believe one of our neighbors contacted the Planning Department at the outset of construction because of the constant huge brown dust storms created by the tractors, skip-loaders, trucks and graders. A water truck was used a couple of times, but not enough to alleviate the dirt in the air, then the water truck quickly disappeared. Now we just pray for rain.

What this expansion project has done and will continue to do to the tranquility and quality of life of those of us most directly impacted is immeasurable. But, for the most part, we have been silent.

A few weeks ago, we (the residents adjacent to the Kroger store expansion) discovered that Kroger plans to open the gas station within the next two months.

When we presented our objections to this project, you, the members of the city council, assured us that all of the conditions in the PUD would have to be completed prior to Kroger being given the final permit. These conditions included an 8-foot high fence and trees to provide a protective barrier from the noise, light and cancer causing gas fumes from reaching the residences. Since the city council included these conditions, we felt that you were at least attempting to address our concerns and protect our health and tranquility.

After learning about Kroger’s plan to open the gas station, we inquired about the absence of the required protective barriers. A Kroger representative minimized our concerns by referring to the barriers as “final touches” and “landscaping”. The text of the email response sent to Bryan Patrick is as follows:

“Hopefully everyone had/has the understanding that this project has to be “phased”. We cannot complete everything at the same time or wait until this is complete before doing something else. On most construction projects I have worked on, the landscaping is normally completed at the end of the project. Many other activities have to be completed prior to the “final touches”.

I can assure you that the project will be completed per the PUD, that is, when we are 100% complete.


Dennis Cobb
Sr. Construction Manager
Kroger Mid-Central Region

Those of us in opposition to and directly impacted by this project did not have the understanding that this project would be phased. At no time during public hearings with the Planning Commission or the City Council, nor anywhere in the PUD conditions was it mentioned that the project would be built in phases and that Kroger would be permitted to open the gas station prior to the protective barrier (the aforementioned 8-foot fence and trees) being in place. To the contrary, at the November 23rd council meeting when the PUD was approved, we were specifically assured that if a condition is specified in the PUD then the builder cannot receive its permit to operate until all conditions have been met. Since the protective barrier was a major item of concern because of the close proximity of the gas station, we are firm in our demand that these items be completed prior to a permit being issued for the gas station.

Bryan Patrick has stated that there is nothing in the final development plan that would prohibit the fuel station from opening prior to the expanded store. This was not our understanding.

Mr. Patrick has also asked Kroger to consider at the very least erecting the 8-foot fence prior to opening the gas station. To my knowledge, he has yet to receive a reply.

We, as your constituents, took you at your word that all of the conditions would be met prior to the facility being opened. However, if this project is to be done in “phases” then we would ask you to intervene on our behalf and withhold permits to operate until at the very least the necessary protective barriers are in place.

Thank you for your consideration.

Terri & Tom Powers
Not too bad, right? So what transpired? Not much. One council member said it was just a timing issue. Two others agreed with us. I didn't hear from the rest of the council or the mayor. Invisible shrugging shoulders. Wow. Thanks. Impressive. And if you weren't able to guess, that wasn't good enough for me. Hence, the following email to the planning department director:

"Dear Bryan:

I would like to start by thanking you for your continued work on the problems created by the Kroger expansion.

After only three responses from the city council members, I am following up directly with you after the email we sent to the city council earlier this week, a copy of which you should have received. After talking to several of the residents in the Rosewood Terrace subdivision, we would like to stress a specific point.

In Mr. Cobb’s response to you concerning our inquiry about the 8-foot fence and trees, he minimized their purpose and importance by referring to them as “landscaping and finishing touches.” We beg to disagree.

Further, in his response he said, “Hopefully everyone had/has the understanding that this project has to be phased”. We have reviewed the minutes of all the hearings and meetings ad nowhere in those discussions were any references to the expansion being “phased.”

If you have reviewed the minutes of the November 23rd council meeting, you will note that one item specifically was of major concern: the 8-foot fence and landscaping needed to protect the residents from the fumes, light and noise of the gas station. At that meeting, Mr. Robert Brown, on behalf of Kroger, explained that the “fuel center area has also had enhancements to increase the screening elements of this area.” Mr. Cobb presented a drawing of a solid wood fence design that would help prevent the gas fumes from reaching the residents. Mr. Cobb went on to say that these conditions along with the buffering ideas had been proposed in an effort to address the concerns raised about the fuel center fumes, noise and light. At no time did anyone consider these protective measures “finishing touches” or mere landscaping. Clearly, everyone understood and was in agreement as to the purpose of the fence and that was as a protective barrier from the issues and concerns surrounding the fuel center.

Now Kroger wants to open the fuel center a year or more prior to completing the “finishing touches and landscaping”. This would be a complete disregard for the safety and health concerns of the surrounding residences, as well as reneging on the understanding of the purpose of the requirements for the approval of the PUD.

Obviously, we have no control over whether or not the project is to be “phased.” However, since this project is going to be “phased,” it is imperative that the safety and protective barriers also be in place. Everyone agreed and understood the primary purpose of the fence was to act as a safety and protective barrier between the residences and the fuel center fumes, noise and lighting. We believe it would not be unreasonable to require Kroger to complete these conditions prior to receiving final permits to open the fuel center.

Once they complete these conditions, they could be allowed to open the fuel center and continue with their “phased” completion of the project, but not before.

Thank you for your cooperation and please keep us advised as to progress.

Terri & Tom Powers"

Look, I know this is all too much information so I hope you just skimmed through those emails. Except I left out the really curt, smoking ears email I sent to the mayor and every city council member the day of Tom's birthday, about a week after all the other communications transpired. It was short and sweet and clearly expressed weeks of frustration:
"It is 6:20 pm. Today is my husband’s birthday. We planned a beautiful evening outside because the weather is beautiful. But our evening in ruined.

Since 6:30 am this morning we have listened to construction. Now it is 6:22pm and the construction continues. Kroger is pouring concrete, installing roofing and construction equipment continues to ‘beep-beep-beep-beep’ until the constant noise is intolerable. Noise ordinance? What noise ordinance?

So, to those city council members who voted for this behemoth that has invaded our entire lives, tell me how your evening plans are going?. How is your quality of life? Are you able to enjoy your backyards? Of course you are because you do not live here. Thanks so much."

Shortly thereafter laborers started clearing brush along the fence line in preparation for the fence, although we weren't informed of that directly. We talked to the laborers performing the work. When they were done clearing, our view went from this....

Kroger Expansion - Before

to this....

Kroger Expansion - After

And for the last month, we've had a wonderful, unobstructed view of continued construction. Last week, though, they finally set the posts for the fence and we are now waiting for fence construction to commence.

In the meantime, as I said, we have an unobstructed view, so when their vendor delivered the new air conditioning units last Saturday, their arrival could not be missed.

I said to Tom when he got home, "Look at what was delivered today. Are those construction trailers?

"I don't know," he said. "Let me go see."

Kroger Expansion - AC

They are not construction trailers. They are the air conditioning units that will be installed on the roof ~ the new roof just a few feet from our neighbors' yards ~ of the expanded portion of the new upscale, status Kroger store.

Kroger Expansion - AC

They are still sitting there today because the new roof isn't finished. And they may be sitting there for awhile, so we get a view on construction and ugly.

But my friend, Dorothy, had an awesome idea. For decorative effect, we should paint them. I suggested we paint them to match the Adirondack chairs I'm painting for my backyard: lavender, salmon, yellow and aqua.

I may have to go paint shopping tomorrow.


altadenahiker said...

Oh, do it. I'll be a character witness. (Fuel center? Fuel center? I'm hyperventilating.)

Terri said...

Great! One character witness lined up and ready to testify! But before I go to trial I might need bail money. You up for that?

kris said...

I would be a character witness for you, but I have no money so you are on your own there. I'd be good for moral support.

Terri said...

Yay! Two character witnesses, bail money (maybe) AND moral support! I am one lucky woman. ☺