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Communication, Controversy, and City Planning

Sometimes, good government and the Will of the People must part ways.

In the wake of the St. Charles City Council’s recent approval of Lexington Club, there is a renewed call for better communication on controversial developments. I’m a big believer in the necessity of critical conversations that seek to resolve misunderstanding and/or disagreement. For such conversations to be fruitful, it’s vitally important to identify conflicting base assumptions, especially as they pertain to the duties and responsibilities of government.

As I have argued before, land use regulations are legally predicated on the city’s power to police. The ethical basis for such interventions into private enterprise is the preservation and promotion of the Public Welfare—that is, the control of so-called neighborhood effects. As Milton Friedman opined in his classic treatise, Capitalism and Freedom (1962), such considerations “have been used to rationalize almost every conceivable intervention. It’s hard to know when neighborhood effects are sufficiently large to justify particular costs in overcoming them....”

For the record, I’m not a libertarian. I’m a liberal—and unapologetically so. But I do think that Friedman raises an important issue here. Government must be prudent in its use of regulation and vigilant against abuses of this power.

By and large, such considerations have been neglected by many community activists who implicitly demand that the city use its powers to enforce their own desires. It’s common to hear people declare that government must deliver what the residents want and not what developers want. As one activist recently commented, “the residents own (the) neighborhood and the developers need to come in and work with us.”

This is patently untrue. As a home owner, my property claims terminate at my property line. They certainly do not extend into my neighbor's property—even if that neighbor is an “out-of-town” corporation. Therefore, I should not expect land uses in my neighborhood to conform to my mere desires. Nor should I expect government to coerce property owners to do what I want—or even what the majority of residents want. What I can and should expect is for government to prevent land uses that are injurious to me, to my family, and to my neighborhood.

How we discern this is a vital question—and unfortunately beyond the scope of this essay. I believe that continuing conversations are key. One thing we must also recognize is the distinct possibility that a given land use proposal (and I'm talking in generalities here) will satisfy the needs of the Public Welfare yet stop short of satisfying the public.

In these cases, as odd as it sounds, government may in fact have an ethical responsibility to disappoint its constituents.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Elizabeth R January 26, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Ted, I know for fact that Martin commented the night he oringinally voted "against the TIF" to another Member, "I just lost a friend" meaning Stillwell. I know for fact that other members were heavily pressured by Administration to change their vote in favor which another did in the end. Even Brian here was asked attend by the Adminstration to possibly stand and read a letter he wrote and posted on FB about his views for the project although in the end they rammed the vote through instead because allowing him to speak would have forced allowing more public comments. Nobody is prosecuted because it isn't "illegal" to change their vote for whatever reason and do you really think they would ever step forward and admit to doing it? It's not illegality we are talking about Ted, it is that certain members are allowing being pressured into changing votes for make certain happy instead of standing up for the City and the residents they swore to represent first and formost. When they couldn't sit up tall and proud in their chairs that night and look out at the audience with confidence and state their vote tells you they new they were not proud of what they were doing, yet they still did it like a bunch of cowards. The City process has fallen to shambles, why else do you think the Mayoral candidates are making such issue about "public meetings and comments" if they get elected? Why too is former Mayor Klinhammer commenting in similar fashion and more going on that meets the eye.
Brian Doyle January 26, 2013 at 02:55 PM
"Even Brian here was asked [to] attend by the Adminstration to possibly stand and read a letter he wrote and posted on FB about his views for the project..." Funny, I didn't get that memo. I went because I choose to.
Elizabeth R January 26, 2013 at 03:15 PM
Funny, Council members were told you were and provided the letter you wrote. Actually they thought there was going to be a prior meeting which never panned out because Lexington asked for more time and that was the meeting they were told you were oringinally going to speak at. Brian, so many inside the City are tired of the way things have been going that now more and more stuff is getting out to the public. The public knows way more than you would ever imagine that goes on. Deny all ya want.
Brian Doyle January 26, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Thomas: I have nothing to hide and nothing to deny. I did write a letter to the Mayor and to one other alderman in which I expressed my intent to attend an upcoming City Council meeting and share my concerns about the implications of the Lexington Club proceedings on the City's comprehensive planning initiative. I was going to speak during the final agenda item for citizen comments. I was *not* asked to do this. Nothing was being orchestrated and it wasn't to be a special, behind-closed-doors meeting. Anyone in attendance at that meeting would have heard what I had to say. I was later informed that Lexington Club had withdrawn their application. Therefore I never went. It's as simple as that. If you think that there's anything else behind this, beyond what I've described, you're misinformed. As an appointed member of the Plan Commission, I do not forfeit my right to lobby my elected representatives as any other citizen. This is no different than David Amundson (member, Housing Commission) or Craig Bobowiec (member, Historic Preservation Commission) lobbying City Council as they see fit.
David Amundson January 26, 2013 at 04:06 PM
I'll make a (probably vain) attempt to bring this conversation back to its origin; public good (and the role of gov't in working to protect / preserve it) vs. property owner's (developer's) rights. While the original essay was written in the abstract, we are all talking about Lexington, so let's get specific. If memory serves me correct, the developer asked for (and got): $5.6M in TIF support, deviation from our affordable housing laws (worth potentially another $1.2M, calculating at $60,000 per unit x 20 units), higher density / smaller lots than normal, smaller building set-backs than normal, and larger FAR's than normal, and what seems to be pretty much a free pass on adherence to our planning document, the 2007 CPA (which makes we wonder why we bothered to write it in the first place). If I am forgetting anything, and/or have gotten anything on this list wrong, please feel free to correct me. What did we get in return? $200,000 in future contributions to the City for, ostensibly,an intersection improvement that, if made, will destroy the value of Mario Vanderhayden's property at 7th and Main, and roughly 500' of sidewalk on the north side of State Street (if it can be built). Again, if I missed anything, please feel free to correct the list and/or add to it. The base question for me is this: with resident expectations set by the 2007 CPA, do these results look like the City got a good deal in exchange for its concessions?
Karl Brubaker January 26, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Substandard building materials including vinyl siding. There is an unbelievable amount of distrust in local officials and it's understandable. Brian said: In these cases, as odd as it sounds, government may in fact have an ethical responsibility to disappoint its constituents. Communities are tired of getting "played" by developers. 1st Street has cost millions in TIF money. St. Charles is in the process of refinancing $27 million in bonds for the project. I think it's safe to say that 1st Street has been a complete disaster. The City helped pay to move a grocery store, forced out and tore down the only family restaurant in that area and built a building that really looks like a giant Meijer. A developer buys a piece of property that he knows contains hazardous waste then has his hand out so the City can Kowtow to his every need including substandard building materials, smaller lot sizes.... (see David's reply above). The needs and wants of the local tax payers have been completely discounted because the City feels that the developers hold all the cards. BTW, is the developer of Lexington paying any impact fees to the schools? Also, did the developer show an enormous need for the 100+ rooftops they plan to cram into Lexington? It's not like they are filling some enormous void.
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 27, 2013 at 01:32 AM
Thomas, Regretting the loss of a friendship because you stand your ground on an issue, and then later changing your vote because changes have been made that address your concerns, is not patronage. If anything, the remark you attribute to Alderman Martin point to just the opposite, and in fact fails to take into context the concern he raised at that meeting about the increased TIF reimbursement. During the final vote approving Lexington, if you will remember, the TIF reimbursment had been dropped to nearly the same level it had been when it had greater council support. Further, I continue to find it amazing that so many so-called facts have to be sifted and sifted again to find out what is actually true. Certainly your remarks about Brian prove my point — and I am not calling you a liar. There is a kernel of truth — that Brian intended to address the council about Lexington — but the other elements of the statement obviously are the result of talk that passed from person to person and were distorted in the process. You repeat them in good faith, unaware of the distortion until Brian points it out. If there were arm-twisting and pressuring going on behind the scenes, how is that is different from everyday life? Children “lobby” their parents to eat at their favorite restaurant. Employees petition their bosses to improve work conditions; a salesman pressure customers to close a deal. It is a very real part of life. Why would it not be a part of politics?
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 27, 2013 at 01:49 AM
Also Thomas, When you say, “When they couldn't sit up tall and proud in their chairs that night and look out at the audience with confidence and state their vote tells you they new they were not proud of what they were doing,” you are making a very, very subjective interpretation of body language when there are other, equally valid interpretations out there. Certainly another is that they knew they were making a very unpopular choice among people they knew in the audience. I’ve pointed this out before. Body language is far more subjective and even experts are known to disagree on interpretation. In rgard to the focus on public meetings by the candidates, they are doing what candidates do best: They’ve recognized there is a constituency out there that feels they weren’t listened to, and they are so courting those voters. It is a politically astute move and I would have been surprised had no one raised the issue. But it’s not the only issue out there and certainly is not the only one that matters.
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 27, 2013 at 02:02 AM
Thanks David.
Gene Kalley January 27, 2013 at 04:01 AM
Ted The document that the city provided was not a thorough study of the viability of the First Street project. Get a copy of the study to see for yourself.
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 27, 2013 at 07:57 AM
Gene, you wrote, "They were begged to get a market analysis of the viability of major additions of offices, shops and condos in the down town area. They would not." Obviously they did do a study. You were sent a draft of that study. I would expect a draft to be incomplete.
Gene Kalley January 27, 2013 at 09:39 PM
Ted Schnell Ted,why don't you let the administration speak for them selves? Why are you keeping their identity secret? They can call the study that they did get a viability study but it wasn't.The study that the city is referring to was done by real estate people and addressed how well vacant shop fronts, coops and offices were being filled around St. Charles. It was not a viability study that took into things like: a) Who and how many people are going to shop downtown? b) What kind of shops would bring people down town to shop? c) Are people going to park at an inconvenient parking garage rather than shop other places. d) Are the coops the right amount, kind and price? e) Is there a particular need for down town office space and if so how much and what kind would be best? f) how long will it take the shops, coops and offices to fill up? g) What happens if there is a down turn in the economy? These are the type of important viability questions that the mayor and council should have sought answers to. The city did not contract with a sophisticated consultant with experience in small town developments to determine the answers to these questions. They can say that the study that was done was a viability study but it isn't in my book. If the city wants to pursue this they should produce copies of the study so we can all see what they claim was a suitable study (If they are claiming that).
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 27, 2013 at 11:48 PM
First Gene, I was not intentionally keeping anyone's identity secret. I ask questions and usually get answers. In this case, the city administrator provided me the information about the viability study, which does exist, regardless of your view about its adequacy. You told me at least once in person and again in this discussion thread that no viability study had been done. That was inaccurate and needed to be cleared up. In terms of debating the merits of the study, I can't do that until a) I've read it, b) I understand it, and c) I understand the context relative to it and the First Street project. At first blush, however, it seems like some of the questions are impossible to answer without gazing into a crystal ball or makng predictions based on assumptions. I don’t believe in crystal balls, and assumptions carry their own risks as well.
Gene Kalley January 28, 2013 at 03:17 AM
Ted, I am glad that you now identified that its the city administrator who is taking issue with me. I will get a copy of the report which I believe will prove my point. It usually take a week to get a FOIA response.
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 28, 2013 at 03:29 AM
Gene, for the love of Pete, do not put words in my mouth. I said no such thing. I did get the information from him. Who else should I have asked?
Gene Kalley January 28, 2013 at 06:14 AM
Ted, My wife scolded me for going too far. I see that I did and I apologize for that and will watch it in the future.
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 28, 2013 at 06:35 AM
Everybody crosses the line from time to time, especially when they are passionate about what they believe. Apology accepted. Don't lose that passion.
Elizabeth R January 28, 2013 at 12:56 PM
To Ted & Brian, I never claimed Brian was going to speak behind closed doors. Brian the letter you planned to read was written to the Comp Plan committee of which you were a member because you were out of town wasn't it and not written actually to the City or Alderman. I didn't say there was anything behind it, just the fact you were supposed to speak, for which you originally here tried to deny. Ted about Mr. Martin changing his vote because the TIF amount was lowered to NEARLY it's original amount? It still cost residents hundreds of thousands of dollars more so your statement isn't very accurate. Your view that the City pressuring Council (which is common place in politics) should be acceptible behavior to residents, when that same Administration isn't listening to residents concers or standing up for their wishes, following their own City surveys and basically as Dave points out handing the people a "bad deal" is ridiculous on your part. You seem to constantly try and find excuse and reason to support the City in this and I wonder why?
Brian Doyle January 28, 2013 at 01:22 PM
Thank you for pulling us back, David. I will reply to your points above as soon as I'm able.
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 28, 2013 at 01:51 PM
Thomas, my statement was accurate in that it pointed out the overall reduction was significant, even if it was greater than the first proposal. It represented a compromise by the developer. Regardless, my statement is far more responsible than publicly accusing someone of patronage, regardless of whether you meant it figuratively or criminally. Also, I did not say "the City" was pressuring the council. I acknowledged arm-twisting or pressuring might have been going on — because it's human nature, like trying to win someone to your side of an argument. Do you mean the city administration or do you mean the mayor’s office? If you mean the mayor, the mayor is supposed to lead. Sometimes the process of leading gets messy. If you mean the city administration, only part of its job is to ensure that the city’s day-to-day functions are being accomplished. They are trained professionals whose jobs sometimes also require them to remind their bosses that the policy decisions they made sometimes require them to take action that suddenly has become unpopular. As a journalist, I've seen situations where that has happened and some of the elected officials complained that they were being pressured. Was that going on with Lexington Club? Perhaps it was, perhaps it was not. I can't tell you because I simply do not know. Because I do not know, I have to remain open-minded. That is part of being a good journalist. Another part is remembering that perception is not the same as truth.
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 28, 2013 at 01:55 PM
There are a lot of different perceptions about Lexington Club and all of its collateral issues. I'd go so far to say that most, if not all, are based on some truth. But context is, I think, a more reliable gauge of full truth than perception.
Craig Bobowiec January 28, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Brian, I see that you have raised my name and affiliation as a "Historic Preservation Commission" member in one of your blogs : "Craig Bobowiec (member, Historic Preservation Commission) lobbying City Council as they see fit.to" to try I guess, explain why you were going to speak before City Council. First of all Brian, my being a commission member has nothing to do with any of my appearances before the City Council, Planning and Development, Planning Commission or Comp Plan Committee. I have NEVER EVER used that "title" or "affiliation" once when speaking about issues in any public meeting at City Hall or ever in any public comments in newpaper articles or blogs as you constantly have done and continue to do. When I speak before any committee or council, I speak as Craig Bobowiec, citizen and resident of St. Charles....PERIOD! My views and opinions are mine as a private citizen not those of a Historic Preservation Memeber or on behalf of the Historic Commission. Let's get that absolutely clear here! I have never as you, imply or possibly lead people to believe (by constantly attaching that "Title" after your name here in the Patch and in other places) that your views may be those of the Planning Commission, or are somehow more credible because you sit on the commission. or that you might be speaking on behalf of the Commission.
Craig Bobowiec January 28, 2013 at 07:06 PM
If you have been authorized by the Planning Commission to indeed speak on their behalf and these opinions your have are exactly what all other members do feel, then say that clearly and upfront in your articles and blogs. I personally would never think to use my Preservation Title when speaking my personal views on these personal issues. First of all I have not been authorized to do so, I wouldn't want in anyway to embarrass, offend or imply to any degree my views are those of my fellow Commission members unless they asked to speak on their behalf. Brian I wear many varied hats, one of which is Commission Member, but also I am a father, a resident, property owner and business owner. Please never again assume or imply that when I come before you at Planning or the Council that I am ever speaking as a Historic Commission Member or on behalf of them. If I ever am, I will clearly make that known at that point. So going back to bringing my name into this as reason it makes what you may do OK, it is not the same, in any way shape or form. I do not and have not spoken or lobbyed as you say as a St. Charles Preservation Commission Memeber and I would ask that you please refrain from implying that I have or am doing so. Thanks Brian.
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 28, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Craig, if it helps, I never once took Brian's comments in that regard. I thought the point he was making was more along the lines of that, in serving on a public commission, none of you have forfeited your right to speak your pieces individually, as residents, rather than as members of boards or commissions. I believed he was referring to you and David Amundson as people in similar situations who do likewise. Lobbying, in this sense, is to make your views known to the elected officials. I also never understood Brian to be speaking on behalf of anyone other than himself and how he understands and views his responsibilities as a Plan Commission member. I, for one, wish that more people holding positions like this would take the time to blog about their efforts. It certainly helped me understand just what the Plan Commission does. Would you be interested in writing a blog based on the services your provide to the city? I believe there are people out there (I'm sure I'm one) who would be interested to know more about the issues you encounter in regard to historic preservation.
Craig Bobowiec January 28, 2013 at 08:23 PM
Ted, Brian may have meant no harm, but when he has to always attach his "Planning Commission Member" Title to his speeches, letters, blogs or articles, it can and does confuse people as to is what he saying coming from the Planning Commission or not? Why then the need to attach that title on everything? I realize (and I am not belittling or implying anything here towards Brian or David" some people need to for lack of better terms "Enhance their ego" by constantly having to use these meaningless titles on everything they write as if they feel important or gain more integrity to their views and comments. Each of us wears these hats twice per month on average, it is a very small part of our lives. Even though I have over 13 years on the Commission, have attended serval seminars on preservation, helped write the Commission's "Design Guidelines" and for over 30 years owned and restored several very old properties, two of which are St. Charles Landmarks, I do not feel I am any expert or that my views or opinions are somehow stronger because of the Commission Title. For me, I think it wrong to use theseTitles publically unless you are authorized by your commission to do so and are speaking on behalf of them. I speak as a"concerned citizen" and "tax payer". He is free to handle it however he chooses. I simply didn't want to be compared in that fashion because that is not how I operate nor do I agree with it. Simple as that Ted.
Ted Schnell (Editor) January 28, 2013 at 08:57 PM
I respect that Craig. I still think your knowledge about historic preservation would be worth blogging about, though -- as an individual involved in the process, you understand the complexities better than a lot of others. Further, you have experience doing renovations. I think it would be cool to write about that -- I'll probably never be able to find a historic home and renovate it, but I know people who have and I know the process can be complicated. Please, consider it. You don't have to write as a commission member -- just as someone who is intimately involved in the process, who has a passion for it.
Brian Doyle January 28, 2013 at 11:47 PM
David: Again, thank you for drawing the conversation back to the original premise. Let me first admit that I probably won't be able to provide conclusive answers to your questions. The issues surrounding Lexington Club are too complex to address in a forum like this. But, to start, I would quote your chairperson, Cindy Holler Larson, who stated at a joint meeting between the Housing Commission and the P&D Committee back in September that "Lexington has environmental problems... is a distressed property... (and) that sites that have conditions like that need to be taken into consideration." It's been my understanding that your commission determined that the benefits of remediating the environmental contamination on the Applied Composites site warranted the waiver of the city's affordable housing requirements. In fact, this played a big part in my own thinking about the developer's proposal. On density, we've already kicked that ball around a bit. I'm gratified that you affirm the validity of the 2007 CPA. I think that the density is in line with that document. Where there is variation is in the use of the front-facing garages. But few people were very concerned about that issue. As for the TIF, the extension of that funding is predicated on the proposition that Applied Composites would simply not be redeveloped without it. That was the finding of the group that studied the TIF. So, utlimately, your base question has to be answered in relation to another question....
Brian Doyle January 28, 2013 at 11:50 PM
(Continued) If Applied Composites were to remain in its current state indefinitely, would the community be better off? And, to the degree that public opposition is based primarly on the land use question (vs. the TIF), would the increased public good of the status quo be sufficiently large to justified restricting land use entitlements?
Brian Doyle January 29, 2013 at 01:35 PM
The pretext of this entire conversation is the allegation that government is not conducting itself appropriately and that the public is entitled to more dialog. The questions I have asked are focused on establishing the ground rules for such dialog. Who is the government? It's not just the Mayor and the City Council. You and I and David are also part of the government because we are appointed officials. In my opinion, we do not have the luxury of simply "changing our hats" and pretending that we are not part of the very system that we may be tempted to criticize. When I attach my title to my comments, it is in the interest of transparency. I have opinions like anyone else. My opinions play a role in the deliberations of the Plan Commission. If citizens have a right to responsive government (and I think they do), then it doesn't serve their interests for me to pretend that I can so easily compartmentalize my actions as a private resident and my actions as a commissioner. I disclose my role precisely so that people can challenge those assumptions that may influence my deliberations on items before the commission. In order to avoid any confusion, however, let me state plainly that my remarks do NOT represent those of the Plan Commission. Only a formal resolution of a quorum of the commission made at a properly noticed public meeting can represent the official position of the commission. I will be more diligent in attaching this disclaimer to my future public comments.
Craig Bobowiec January 29, 2013 at 08:07 PM
Brian, i respect your explanation here and where you state plainly your comments do not represent the Plan Commission that is right for you to do. I just think in the future on any of your blogs, articles, speeches you need to continue to clear that issue up at the very beginning, so everyone reading or listening can do so with the full understanding of where these comments come from. I guess you are correct in your describing your role as an appointment, personally I look at it as I am volunteering my time and giving back to my City. Appointment for me sounds too "formal" as I do give the Historic Commission my best but it's not that serious to me, more it's fun, and rewarding contributing to my City and to those that we educate and help with their projects. I just ask again, that if you choose to use my personal efforts in these other issues, do so as resident Craig Bobowiec. When I speak out trying to protect the better good of my neighborhood or City I am in no way doing so as a Historic Commissiom member. I am not nor are you or David in a "paid or elected" position with the City so I do disagree that we are not allowed to step out of our Commission hats when issues impact our personal lives. I guess we can agree to disagree on this. But when I walk out of my meetings, I become Craig Bobowiec human being and resident of St. Charles, although I do so with the respect that at times I do represent the City and conduct myself accordingly.

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