Monday, April 26, 2010

Newark City Council Meeting - 04/26/2010 - My revised planned comments on proposed UD bookstore

Here is the current draft (revised 6pm today) of my comments planned for tonight's meeting of Newark City Council, to consider the proposed UD bookstore in the central business district.

A classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon has the father coming home to find his son with a sign that reads 'love the sinner, hate the sin.'

I love the University of Delaware. I earned my first degree at the UD. I have lived less than 2 miles from campus for the past twenty years, 13 of those years as an owner of a business on Main Street. And yet I oppose this bookstore proposal.

What is wrong with being a schoolyard bully? You get your victims to agree to do what you want (give you their lunch money, do your homework, etc), even if those actions are certainly not actions the victims would have done without your pressure.

I'm certain that the UD doesn't feel that it is being a bully, however that is how it feels when we are repeatedly told that the UD has the court-affirmed right to do as they please in expanding their campus wherever and however they please, but are willing, for the time being, to work within the city's zoning rules.

So let me offer a novel request, let's take the UD at its word tonight. They claim to be dedicated partners with the city, the residents, and the business community, and they claim to be committed to abiding by the city's zoning code, for the moment. Thus I beg you, make your decisions tonight based on the UD's word, and therefore, based on the rules and procedures of our city as applied to the written proposal before you. View this as just any large development proposal affecting the central business district, from just any developer. Please make your best decision, based on merits (or lack thereof) of this proposal, not based on conjectures (such as what the UD would do if you reject this proposal, or what could have or should have occurred). Conjectures are not on tonight's agenda; this proposal is.

Are you satisfied that you know what you are approving? Is it a Barnes and Noble bookstore and Starbucks (the second in three blocks) that serves the non-student community but fails to provide enough parking for its patrons, likely refusing to pay its fair share of taxes and fees, taxes and fees paid by the rest of Newark's business community? Or is it a University bookstore that expands the college campus into the central business district, squeezing out economic activity that serves the community? When constituents spoke with you, did you explain that the University has yet to make clear which model it is following? Won’t your constituents be upset when they find that rather than a consumer Barnes and Noble, what is being built is merely a University bookstore managed by Barnes and Noble, taking up prime space in the central business district without serving them, your constituents? It would be no better than if a high-rise college dorm was built there.
Are you satisfied with approving a proposal that the city's Planning Commission rejected? The minor changes made this month don't come close to addressing the shortcomings noted at their meeting last month. What are you telling future developers about the Planning Commission's function?
Are you satisfied with the shellgame, the structure of the temporary conveyance from UD to the city of parking area which can be requested back by the UD at a moment's notice and without any compensation? Would you let any other developer give you property in return for moneys owed the city, subject to the developer's right to receive that property right back from the city whenever they wish?
Are you satisfied with approving a proposal that fails to meet the design guidelines on (quantitative, not subjective) issues such as building materials, guidelines created to ensure that such a new property would fit in well with neighboring properties? Have you considered how much more difficult it would be in the future when the next developer proposes another project that thumbs its nose at the design guidelines, if council ignores this proposals' total disregard?
Are you satisfied with waiving over $1.1 million due to the city, due to the proposals' woefully inadequate parking, when the introduction of this 60,000 square foot building will undoubtedly create massive changes to pedestrian, bicycle, and car/truck traffic, and to downtown parking, changes which will require a large amount of the city's money to lessen the negative impact on Newark's central business district? Where is the money going to come from to make the changes that this project will require of the city's infrastructure? How will you reject the next proposal that comes up 200 parking spaces short?
Will your constituents be satisfied if tonight you vote to give up the city’s right to $1.1 million?

Please take the University at their word. They wish to follow the city's zoning rules, at least for tonight. Have they satisfied our city's zoning rules tonight, with the incredible parking insufficiency, with the ¼ acre shell-game, and with the industrial building materials? If this were any other developer, would you approve this proposal? No they haven't, and no you wouldn't.

Admit it, each of you has thought 'even if I vote against this proposal, the UD will build it anyway.' Thus you have already considered accepting the role of the victim by approving this deeply flawed plan, based solely on the presence of the University’s bullying pressure. If the University needs to be a bully to build this project, then let it be clear to all, including to our legislators in Dover, that the University is that bully. Refuse to play the victim, and cooperate with the bully. Cooperating with a bully solves NOTHING, and merely encourages and empowers them.

You should only vote for this proposal if it meets the city’s zoning rules and regulations. It is clear that it doesn’t.

Vote against this proposal tonight.

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