Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Losing Hand

I feel like I'm deeply entrenched in the card game called Bull Shit.

What has happened since my post yesterday when I reported that the Planning Department was going to issue a temporary Certificate of Operation (is that their job or code enforcement?) and my subsequent 6 or 7 emails of protest and indignation and the Planning Department's wimpy agreement to accept half of a fence, as though that would be acceptable to all of the residents who are at risk for benzene exposure and other carcinogens emitted by the, um, fuel center (because after all, when you're upscale you cannot call it a gas station)?

Just a brief side note. Isn't it interesting that when Kroger has a criteria that must be accomplished that, even in the dark of night, workers are still setting 2X4's to meet tomorrow's deadline. It is just past 7:00pm and the fencing company workers are still the freaking dark.

So, late this afternoon I finally finished the letter the do-nothing, discriminatory, shoulder shrugging mayor and city council. Following is, in its entirety, the letter to the mayor and city council concerning the Kroger temporary Certificate of Occupancy:

November 17, 2011

A Letter to the Mayor and City Council:

Bryan Patrick’s email of November 15th at the close of business day was completely unexpected, considering that we were informed just 10 days prior that Kroger would not receive a certificate of operation prior to the completed construction of the protective barrier fencing. Apparently, someone rattled a cage on Kroger’s behalf.

This last debacle is just another in a long line of half-truths, misleading statements and broken promises.

In response to Mr. Patrick’s e-mail regarding the latest fuel center/protective barrier issue, I would like to bring up two points.

First, when we overheard the information that Kroger was attempting to open the gas station prior to the full completion of the PUD and we made inquiries as to why this would be permitted, Mr. Cobb’s initial response was to innocently claim that his belief was that everyone understood that this project would be done in phases. In our response to Mr. Cobb’s claim, we made it clear that our understanding from the hearings and meetings was that this project would not be given a final operating permit until all aspects of the PUD were completed

Secondly, Mr. Patrick has indicated in nearly all of his email communications that there is nothing in the PUD that says Kroger can’t do ‘this or that’ with regard to full completion vs. opening parts of the PUD prior to full completion.

However, we have read the general guidelines for a Planned Unit Development and cannot find anything within the ordinance that addresses temporary approval to commence operation of any part of the PUD. In fact this very point was brought up at a council meeting by one of the residents because of our concerns about enforcement of requirements and promises. The former land owner and Kroger promised to build a fence when the current store was built, but the fence never materialized. At that same meeting, we were assured by a council member that if a fence and tree barrier is listed in the PUD conditions, Kroger would have to complete every condition prior to being given a C.O.O. Consequently we were led to believe that everything in the PUD would have to be done prior to Kroger opening anything. To our knowledge, a “development phasing and construction schedule” was never submitted with the PUD application, although the ordinance states it is a requirement. The only mention of a schedule was a 14-month build from start to finish.

At the final approval meeting, Alderman Hawkins moved to adopt the ordinance for the PUD with the conditions stated. There was no discussion. Not once in any meeting was the subject of phases or temporary certificates brought up or mentioned. If the phases would have been mentioned, you can be sure that we would have argued that for health and safety issues, the protective barrier must be completed prior to opening the gas station.

I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that a PUD is basically a contract that states they (Kroger) will build this store and fuel center with the listed conditions and you (the City) will give them a permit to operate. I don’t know many contracts that allow one side to insert, at their will, new time lines or stipulations without everyone agreeing to them.

You signed this contract with Kroger when you approved this PUD. We as citizens took you at your word that you would follow this contract and its conditions for the betterment of the community and the protection of its citizens.

The email Mr. Patrick sent yesterday morning outlined an apparent agreement for the partial completion of the barrier fence. This was simply insulting and laughable. It was also patently false and misleading which we learned inadvertently during a conversation with the fencing superintendent for Arkansas Fence, the contractor hired to erect the fence. In fact, we were told that Arkansas Fence has not been instructed to “build the fence.” They have been instructed to build ONLY that portion of the fence which is outlined in Mr. Patrick’s email and nothing more. There is no intention of “completion of the remaining fence [being] expected shortly thereafter.” Given the history with Kroger this past year, I doubt anyone is surprised.

We are rather weary and well beyond angry at the gross double standard applied when it comes to ordinance and other code enforcement. Ordinary citizens, like us, are given citations for having too many garage sales signs, allowing our grass to grow an inch too long or for leaving our garbage bins at the curb more than an afternoon. Our health, safety and quality of life concerns are either ignored or met with half-truths, misrepresentations, omissions and shoulder shrugs. However, if a citizen is affluent and/or well connected, a final residential permit will be issued in spite of glaring and unsafe building code violations, a church will be allowed to ignore city codes to the detriment of the surrounding community and Kroger will be issued a temporary operating permit for the gas station even though you are not requiring them to complete the health and safety barrier fence and trees to which they agreed even at the risk of potential harm to surrounding families.

What happened to honesty, integrity, compassion and service to the community, a job for which you were elected? Not just a finite segment of the community, but all of us.
You are politicians elected by the people. Someone once said, “Politics is like a game of cards. If you’re well connected or a large corporation, you’re automatically in the game. If you’re an ordinary citizen without resources, you don’t even get table stakes.”

It is not enough to merely shrug your shoulders and say you voted against it. Where is the leadership, concern and protection ~ and, yes, trust ~ we should be able to expect from our city council? As ordinary citizens, we expect our city council to sit at the table on our behalf.

Terri & Tom Powers

Do I harbor any illusions that it will do any good? Nope. But it felt good letting them know how completely useless and inept I think they are.

No comments: