Monday, October 29, 2018

One Peril of Selling our City

I’ve talked before about how Clayton shouldn’t be for sale, and what our downtown is worth. But an additional point that needs to be emphasized is that once properties are zoned a certain way, high density, for parolees, or otherwise, the Planning Commission and the City have little to no ability to reject proposals that conform to and are consistent with the applicable zoning. The idea that the Council has put forward - that the PC will be able to pursue avenues to reject otherwise conforming plans is not reasonable. Rejecting otherwise conforming proposals is one way to lose lawsuits.

The best ways to stop undesired projects are two fold. The first is to buy the land. That way if the city doesn't want a particular project  they have quite a bit of power to control the use. The second way is to change the zoning (in compliance with the law) in such a way as to discourage undesired projects and encourage desired projects.

It should be clear how this is relevant to our present situation. The city already owns the downtown lot. The city can control what goes there easily as long as they retain ownership. That's why it's important they do not sell it. Because once the property is sold, then the city loses control and the new owner would be able to develop on it anything that conforms with the applicable zoning. This point was also made by the City at one of the previous Council meetings when they published this document:

If the city sells the land it owns, it will relinquish control of how the land is used as long as the use is consistent with the zoning. This leads into the second method.

The second method is relevant to is the existing three parcels near the post office. We can see how this is playing out - the city doesn't own it and there are plans on the table for three separate three story senior rental complexes. And with the density bonus law, there can be variances granted for things like height, setbacks, and parking. But since the city doesn't own it, the city cannot control what the land is used for as long as it is consistent with the zoning. And because the city has rezoned those parcels multiple times over the last several years, each time taking action that would lead to higher densities, it’s no surprise that the owner is seeking to develop the property with as high a density that is possible.

Rezoning to a different use is a different avenue to make sure that whatever goes there conforms to what the rest of the city needs and wants. And since we are currently in a housing unit surplus situation, it's a viable opportunity to do so whereas before it that option wasn't available.

And as an aside, this is the same reason that the notice requirement for parolee housing that Ms. Pierce touted is so toothless. Ms. Pierce repeatedly made the point that nearby residents would be notified so they could complain. But so what if there are notices - if the proposal were to conform to the requirements, there would be nothing the PC or Council could do about it. If we don't like the results of the rules, we need to change the rules. Rejecting plans that conform with the rules as stated is an invitation to losing a lawsuit. That's why the rules should be changed to prevent that from happening.