Guest Post: Scott McClurg on the Neighborhood Business Zone and Jane Adams’ Mailer on that Issue
Over the past couple of weeks, there has been increasing concern about the proposed change to the Neighborhood Business (NB) district in our zoning code. I have received numerous inquiries on this issue and I received one request for a guest post slot from Carbondale Planning Commission member and SIUC professor Scott D. McClurg. His post, which originally appeared as a note on his Facebook page, is below. The original note attracted several comments, including some from Council candidates. To view that note, click here. I will share my thoughts on the Neighborhood Business District in another post, which you can view at this link.
If you live in Carbondale, you probably received an alarming flier about a “backroom deal” to “change the city’s code” on behalf of some “powerful business interest.” As a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, I encourage you to read this flier carefully. And, I’d ask that you take into consideration the following response. From my point of view, Councilwoman Adams — the author of the flier — simply gets some things wrong, fails to contextualize the proposal adequately, and is engaging in the most cynical of political acts by trying to scare voters.
What is she wrong about? The most important is the characterization that everything is being done in secret. As a planning a Commissioner on the Planning and Zoning Board, I received the same notification about this text amendment as I always do — roughly two weeks prior to meeting . We dealt with it during a public and broadcast meeting, just as we always do. As I understand Carbondale law, this is a process we always use — this was not unusual. Another thing that is incorrect is that this is “the mayor’s” proposal. The proposal came from city staff and, to the best of my knowledge, not from the Mayor’s office. He might have known about the proposal, but that would be news to me and, I suspect, other members of the Board. From my position, I see nothing here to suggest that there is a “backdoor deal”. The Board followed the same procedure we always use and also held a public hearing, in which we could hear public comment. If Councilwoman Adams isn’t in touch with City staff on things that concern her, that is her failure as a representative. And it doesn’t excuse her suggestion that this business is being conducted in private.
How does she fail to contextualize the proposal? Her flier mentions, “The Mayor’s proposed ‘Neighborhood Business District’…” Leaving aside that this isn’t “the Mayor’s” proposal, we did not to the best of my understanding create a new zoning district. We did take the old Neighborhood Business District and recommend that it be turned into a special use. The logic behind that change is because the current code in NB Districts has basically meant there are no neighborhood businesses, including the “quiet neighborhood cafe” mentioned in the Councilwoman’s flier. Instead of creating a specific zone for NB, this change will allow businesses in other districts as a “Special Use.”
It is also important to note that the vast majority of the text in the filer is the old zoning language. There is some new language and it more flexible. I encourage both the Council and citizens to consider that new (and old language ; its important to debate it. However, its irresponsible for the Councilwoman to not acknowledge the following — Special Uses both 1) require greater justification to be used and 2) allow the city to place more conditions on the character of the proposed property. In other words, if the Council wants to support a neighborhood business but only under specific circumstances (size of building, parking, etc.), then it gets to dictate those terms. And then only after notifying neighboring properties, holding a Planning Commission Meeting, and finally getting approved by the Council itself.
By the way, let’s talk about this process. There is nothing in the current zoning rules that allow the Mayor and City Manager to push this through without the input of citizens and, most importantly, the Council. This is the very essence of representative politics in a democracy — some people like an idea, others don’t. We resolve these differences through prescribed laws and practices, with representatives being held accountable for their decisions by the voters if the decisions are disliked. Given that the process is being followed, why should the Councilwoman make negative claims? Is the Councilwomen implying that the rest of the Council is bought off or derelict in their duty? If so, she should show us the evidence rather than imply that somehow the process isn’t being followed. And if she thinks there are flaws in how we made public decisions here in town, why hasn’t she offered proposals to the Council to change the flaws? Again, her implication that this is a “backroom deal” implies that the process isn’t working or that the game is fixed. Well, implications are not evidence evidence of wrongdoing and I see no evidence to suggest she thinks we need to change our rules of government.
Finally, why is this cynical? Clearly the Councilwoman has objections to the proposal. Why not lay them bare to the public as they are? Why dress those objections up scary language like “backroom deal” and suggesting the Mayor and City Manager are “benefiting” (without any actual evidence to back up such a claim)? Why sully the reputation of the City Staff, Planning and Zoning Board, and the rest of the Council by implying they are either covering up corruption or to stupid to notice? Quite frankly, I cannot speak to her motives. But I suspect that when politicians — which Councilwoman Adam’s no doubt is — think their point of view is going to lose, they attack their opponents rather than their ideas. And since I’m on the Planning and Zoning Commission, I will not sit by idly when someone makes such claims involving my volunteer work as a citizen. I will speak up, object, and ask the Councilwoman for the apology she owes many of us who work to make Carbondale a great place to live. She doesn’t need to agree with any of us, but giving us enough respect to not impugn our character without evidence is not too much to ask.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting anyone should speak for or against the change in the code. And, I have no qualms about postponing the final decision if citizens want more time to be informed. A healthy debate is a great thing for the city and for its residents. But don’t just take Councilwoman Adam’s word for what is going on. Heck, don’t just take my word for it. Please make your own judgement based on your values and the facts, and please don’t let some alarming flier trick you into not making your own choice.
Please share widely.
Ed. note: The preceding was written by Scott D. McClurg of Carbondale, Illinois.