Thursday, May 23, 2024

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Making zoning applicants lie in order to have their requests approved

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We don’t often offer much commentary on zoning issues within local municipalities, but several recent cases in Burlington have piqued our concern.

The latest fad, over the past several years, in municipal governments has been to offer a zoning designation generally referred to as “conditional zoning – limited use.”

The old days of “straight” zonings – business, industrial, and residential – have given way to specialty designations that give municipal planning staffs and their elected boards more control over what someone is going to build on a certain lot, or how they intend to use an already existing building. “Conditional” and “limited use” designations allow governments to know what is intended at the outset of the process.

Bureaucrats and even some elected officials may try to claim what they’re after is “more discretion,” but, in reality, what they’re really doing is imposing more government control over what property owners can do with their properties.

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What we’re particularly irritated by is the habit, especially in Burlington, of encouraging – or even requiring – that a rezoning applicant lists multiple potential purposes for their property, even when they’ve already decided on a particular use and have no intention of using the property for such recommended alternative purposes.

A case in point is scheduled to come before the Burlington city council next week.

In this instance, the applicant wants to set up a car wash at the location of a now-shuttered convenience store along Rauhut Street – surely an improvement for that area of the city. So he submitted a rezoning request that sought to limit the property’s use to this one business.

Seems simple and straightforward enough.

But city bureaucrats insisted that the applicant, Manuel Diaz Marquez, include other potential uses for the property – in addition to the car wash and auto detailing business for which he initially applied and which he actually hopes to operate.

In essence, what the city is doing now is pressuring applicants to lie about their intentions by including extraneous potential uses as a part of the proposed limitations.

Applicants are being strong-armed into seeking potential uses that city bureaucrats find attractive or pleasing, even when the developer/property owner/applicant has no interest whatsoever in pursuing those alternative uses.

Mr. Marquez, for instance, stated matter-of-factly on his initial application that he intended to establish a car wash and automobile detailing business, which is one of 114 allowable uses in the general business zone in which his property is located.

But city planning bureaucrats panned Mr. Marquez’ original request for being “too restrictive,” and recommended against it.

Subsequently city staff browbeat Mr. Marquez into expanding the list of potential uses for the same lot.  While his real intention remains to establish a car wash and automobile detailing business, which is still included in the request, his revised request proposes to list nine other potential uses: a child day care center, computer-related services, convenience store (with no gasoline sales), a convenience store (with gasoline sales),  a flea market, a repair shop, a restaurant (with indoor/outdoor seating), retail use, and wholesale sales.

With the addition of these extraneous (and unintended purposes), the city’s bureaucrats gave Mr. Marquez’ revised request their stamp of approval.  They then urged the compliant planning board to approve the request, which they did unanimously, 7-0.

This was at least the third recent rezoning request we’ve observed where the bureaucrats opposed a “limited-use” application for being “too limited” (or “restrictive,” in their parlance).

They would apparently prefer to have camouflage or subterfuge, rather than real, honest and direct rezoning requests, such as the one Mr. Marquez originally made.

Now, it is perhaps sheer coincidence, but we also observe that in all three of these cases, the applicants have had Spanish names.

We wouldn’t find it any more acceptable if the people that city officials were bullying were white or black instead of Hispanic.

But the fact that all three appear to have been Hispanic does make us wonder whether city bureaucrats have honed in on this population because they deem it less sophisticated or savvy, and perhaps a bit easier to bend to their demands.

At any rate, we would urge Burlington’s city council to stop the perpetuation of this charade, which undermines public faith and confidence in city government – and encourages false and misleading requests by people whose honest descriptions of their plans are being discouraged or overruled.

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