Sunday, November 13, 2005

Put 'em up

Let me get this out of the way first: I generally agree with the citizens' assertion in the current case involving expansion at Turf Valley that the development should be subject to the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. I'm not sure why the community was exempted from the growth control measure in the first place--the article provides no real answer--but removing the exemption seems, at least superficially, like a good thing to do. Unfortunately, I don't think the Planning Board has that power.

So, with that said, I have a couple of not-entirely-relevant comments on this story.

First, what's with the story lede? Here are the first five sentences.

A referee will mercifully stop a fight when a boxer is being pummeled. Although the battle over the planned expansion of Turf Valley is the zoning equivalent to a 15-round heavyweight bout, there are no provisions for compassion, which means one party will ultimately go down for the count.

As things stand now, the developer, Mangione Family Enterprises, appears well ahead.

"I think that's a fair conclusion," said Marc Norman, co-chairman of an opposition coalition. "But we have not had the opportunity to present our case yet."

Although I disagree with the use of a cliched boxing metaphor on principle alone, it's use in this story does nothing to enhance the point; in fact, it actually hurts the writer's (for this story the by-line is simply "A Sun Reporter") ability to convey what's going on. For instance, the first sentence talks about a referee calling an end to a fight when one boxer is getting "pummeled." Is it really fair to say the citizens are being pummeled at this point? Sure, they may have had some setbacks, but such quasi-judicial development cases are often characterized by setbacks faced by both sides. Moreover, as Norman said, the citizens haven't had an opportunity to present their case, or in the parlance of the boxing metaphor, they haven't thrown a punch. If two boxers enter a ring and one lands a couple of early punches, is it fair to call this a pummeling? Probably not.

The second point I'd like to make focuses more on the process used to decide these case. Many development proposals go through a quasi-judicial hearing process before either the Planning Board or Zoning Board. In these settings, there are always two clearly-defined sides. Usually, the citizens and the developer. Intrinsic antagonism between the two sides is reinforced by the process, as the presiding board and participants are segregated by procedural rules into clearly defined roles, elminating any middle ground.

I know this process has its benefits, but it also has some serious drawbacks. It offers no chance for dialogue. It is a confusing process that requires serious knowledge of arcane procedures and limits public input. And it is weighted heavily in favor of the developers, who can pay lawyers to spend many hours preparing for a case. Here's a quote from the developer of Turf Valley:"I have a very good attorney. He spends a lot of time preparing, and he anticipates a lot of things," (Louis) Mangione said. "He does what he has to do to keep the project moving."

Finally, this process also leads to the sad outcome predicted for Turf Valley by the opposition leader.

While professing optimism, Norman also said there's a contingency: "There is a high likelihood that this case will be tied up in the courts for years."

There has to be a better way.

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