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by JUDY HODGSON
One Eureka city official shrugged
her shoulders and said, "It's the democratic process, I
Was it a proud moment of democracy
in action or was it a case of a poorly informed City Council
caving in to a small group of NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) neighbors?
Last week the council, surprising
even its staff, killed a 20-unit housing project for low- and
moderate-income families that had been in the works for several
years. The item on the agenda was not a public hearing
on the merits of the project -- for example, whether the housing
density was compatible with the neighborhood. The council was
only voting on a routine request from staff for the city to renew
an "exclusive right to negotiate" agreement with the
builder. In other words, staff was asking to continue
working on a project that was finally showing promise.
So what happened?
In the last two city elections,
2000 and 2002, the voters elected an entirely new council and
mayor. The previous council, however, had given staff consistent
direction on this piece of city property. No, the council did
not want to see an office complex on that land. That parcel was
ideally suited and zoned for multiple-unit housing. It is on
the bus line, walkable from downtown. It is adjacent to a beautiful
park for children and the city trails system is easily accessible.
In 1999 city officials held
preliminary talks with commercial builders about how to address
affordable housing goals. In 2001 the city identified two parcels
and issued a formal request for proposals from developers. There
were problems with one parcel (on Tydd Street), but the city
chose Danco Builders for the Myrtle Avenue and Seventh Street
There have been lengthy delays
seeking the right combination of public money -- through grants
and tax breaks -- and private funds to make the project feasible.
There have been two extensions of the "exclusive right to
negotiate" agreement in the last year or so. But the bottom
line is Danco proceeded in good faith, completing preliminary
traffic and biological studies, submitting information for the
conditional use permit, and had every reason to believe the project
was on track.
Why the delays? Danco project
manager Cindy Guckenberger said the city itself took nearly a
year to investigate whether the project could qualify for a tax
credit because of its proximity to the redevelopment zone.
"We never got an answer.
Then three months ago the city suggested we go after a HOME grant
and bypass redevelopment."
City Manager David Tyson confidently
wrote in a letter to Danco June 6, "Staff is preparing a
request for a new Exclusive Right to Negotiate ..." to begin
June 17 and run through Dec. 31 to allow for the HOME loan application
"and hopefully notification of funding and successful completion
of this project."
How was this meeting different?
This time some neighbors showed up to speak against the project
with a petition in hand. One area resident suggested that his
property values would drop.
Tyson told the Journal
after the council voted 5-0 against the extension last week that
he was surprised by the vote.
So was Guckenberger, who said
she didn't even go to the meeting because such approval had been
routine in the past.
Last week's action does not
mean multifamily housing will never be built on the parcel, but
it does mean several years of work down the drain.
Tyson was philosophical.
"We did feel it was routine.
But we, of course, are never surprised by the power of the council
to react to public perception."
Guckenberger was a little more
"Anytime you build affordable
housing, the neighbors don't want it. NIMBYISM is what shut down
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