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EDITOR'S DESK: The snobs win again (but not their 'church friends')

By Kenyon Jordan

        The Mesa Road neighborhood is the new owner of the 8.3-acre property at the southeast corner of Mesa and Fillmore.
       That's a false statement.
       But it certainly came across that way at the City Council discussion on the Sentinel Ridge proposal June 24.
       The people who live on that long ridge in their big houses on their big lots really aren't big fans of new people moving in - unless they have big houses on big lots too.
       They'll say it's about traffic, or open space, or density, or site configurations or protecting their rural character… but it really comes back to big houses on big lots. Or nothing at all.
       They might even say they like the idea of a church - “100 percent are in support of our church friends,” was one quote to City Council. Of course, they are. Churches have no residents and only cause noticeable traffic once a week. But let the First Evangelical Free Church ask for a little leeway if their plans fall through after buying the site - leeway that by the way existed in the zoning already there, to allow single-family homes - and you'd think the neighborhood's so-called “friends” had asked to put a Wal-Mart in.
       Snobs. I think that's the right word.
       It's been demonstrated over and over again. Five years ago a property owner on Mesa Road proposed a subdivision of five lots on seven acres. Most of us, living on a quarter-acre or much, much less, would find that rather spacious. But not this bunch. Although the plan met city codes and was recommended by staff and approved by Planning Commission, they paid the fee to appeal it to City Council, where they played the rural character card… and won!
       They even set a citywide precedent two years ago by creating a new organization, “Rawles Open Space Neighborhood,” so they could write their own master plan for 38 lots along part of Mesa. Again they lost at Planning Commission; again they appealed to council… and again they won. Despite evidence that they had not contacted several property owners and were openly opposed by several others who accused them of trying to gain control over private land use, council was convinced by the snobs' seemingly innocent sentiment that all they really wanted was to protect their area's quality of life and “educate” newer property owners about the neighborhood's traditions.
       There's prior history with Sentinel Ridge. Five years ago the developer's plan was for 88 homes on the 45 acres. Big surprise, the Mesa Roaders didn't like all those homes. Once again they lost at Planning Commission and again they appealed to City Council. This time they came up short, but as it turned out, the project never got built. So this spring here came a new Sentinel Ridge plan… and here came the Mesa gang again.
       As a side note, before I get further along here, I want to state for the record that I truly admire the snobs. They are smart, affable, love their neighborhood, clearly have time on their hands and have become adept at working the system. What amazes me is how they keep getting away with it. Watching council fall for their arguments June 24 was like watching some hapless Rockies batter, waving for the millionth time at a third-strike curve ball a foot off the plate. Personally, if I hear a Mesa Road resident complain one more time about all those cars twice a day at Holmes Middle School, I think I'm going to break my TV set. What, they don't like children, either? Well, I guess not other people's. Don't you council members get it, that they are always going to exaggerate their suffering, stretch the facts and ask for a lot more than they have a right to expect?
       Of course, it may also have something to do with who's on council. None of our elected bunch seemed to have studied the Sentinel Ridge issue very closely, nor did they even seem that curious. Regarding the southeast corner alone, why is a church suddenly the only acceptable use? Why eliminate 37 of the 38 otherwise-allowable uses in the Office Complex zone for the church but only 13 for the human-service facility that's also part of Sentinel Ridge and planned only 500-some feet away? Why did council make such a big deal out of Planning Commission being nearly unanimous for the use restriction when previous City Councils have had no compunction about overruling commission votes?
       And then there's this: A contracted traffic analysis five years ago had estimated minimal impact on Mesa Road traffic (an additional 200 cars a day), and that was with at least half the 88 houses' residents exiting there. By definition, based on the same zoning at the church site (if it became houses instead), the added cars wouldn't even get to 50 a day.
       City Council didn't ask for studies on traffic, though. They just took the Mesa Road people at their word. The Holmes traffic anecdote… again!
       It was like adding insult to injury when the church representative had to endure a smarmy lecture from Council President Keith King that ignored the obvious restraint-of-trade question but instead implied that council was doing the church people a favor by giving them no choice but to build there if they buy it.
       Speaking generally, am I the only one who thinks it's strange that Jan Martin never offered to recuse herself, considering that the subdivision where she lives is catty-corner from the would-be church site and she stands to directly benefit from low activity there?
       Finally, how about the Mesa Roader who said he represented 69 homeowners? He didn't present a petition, and council didn't ask for one. Doing so would have seemed only prudent, especially considering the snobs' exaggerated property-owner contact numbers during the 2012 Rawles master-plan venture. As icing on that cake, no councilmember challenged Martin when she later alluded to “69 neighbors” to support her argument that there was unanimity on the church-only position.
       Prepared or not, the councilmembers who voted in favor can definitely cite Sentinel Ridge on their next campaign flyer as proof that they stand up for neighborhoods… just as long as we everyday folks overlook the fine print explaining that it helps to be slicksters who know what buttons to push.
       To get back to the original point, who really owns the property? You and I and the Mesa Road snobs might want that southeast corner to be 100 percent open space forever - or OK, let's bring in our “church friends” too - but I don't recall any of us except First Evangelical putting money on the table.
       It would seem that City Council, whether they're informed on the issue or not, ought to bear in mind at least that much.

(Posted 6/25/14; Opinion: Editor's Desk)

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