Monday, September 29, 2008

City Planning Issues

Digging into this week's Grand Junction City Council agendas brought two significant items to bear that might be worth your attention.

Tonight's meeting will include the beginning of the appeal process of the Planning Commission's decision in August to disapprove an application to place a "Gentleman's Club" in an industrial area on the west side of town, convenient to the City's one major truck stop. Council will set a hearing date, most likely for November 5, to decide how to handle the applicant's appeal.

The online Council packet (beginning on Page 76) includes numerous pages of meeting minutes and letters from citizens. The testimony reflected in the minutes appears evenly divided between proponents of the facility and those opposed.

The letters run nearly 100% against, with the letter writers running the ideological and cultural gamut, from the entire Grand Junction Ministerial Alliance to professional counselors and "veterans" of the adult entertainment "industry".

In some places around the country, it is quite the industry, and not just in places you would expect. Driving I-70 through southwestern Pennsylvania, there are numerous billboards for "gentleman's entertainment" in this area, which is a high-traffic area for truckers. Ditto along I-80 in Illinois. Needless to say, I plan my rest stops and overnights as far removed from these areas as possible.

Put aside the morality issues. From a practical standpoint, some members of the Planning Commission were right on the money when they opined that the negative impact of such a facility on the community at large had to be taken into consideration. These impacts have included increased levels of drunkenness and fighting, drug activity, and ancillary prostitution in other locations. If only they could display a bit more consistency when rightly considering the larger implications of a development application.

The City experienced those impacts when 'Cheers' was Downtown. Since they were successful in removing what they considered 'urban blight' in favor of the gentrification of Colorado Avenue, why is it now appropriate to bless the edification of those less than desirable aspects of our society in another part of the city?

For my part, I hope that Council will follow the Planning Commission's lead. Perhaps we can erect our own trucker's billboard out on the Interstate:

A Community of Distinction
Looking for Hot Action?
Keep Driving.


While we're on the subject of the Planning Commission, another interesting Council action item will be heard during this Wednesday's meeting.

Planning Commission member Bill Pitts "may" be the subject of a public hearing "to review recent actions...and/or to consider his removal from the Planning Commission." This may be related to Mr. Pitts' desire to testify as a private citizen before the Commission concerning a retirement residence being built near his property.

According to Sentinel coverage in July, Mr. Pitts was told that not only could he not testify, he could not even be in the room when the issue was debated, despite his stated intention to recuse himself from any official debate or vote. This is apparently the interpretation of the City Attorney's office of a Resolution passed by council in 2006, which deals with conflicts of interest by members of volunteer boards and commissions with "authoritative" responsibilities, such as the Planning Commission.

The main issue of interest appears to be whether or not the City's resolution runs afoul of the First Amendment, and whether or not a Commission member's opinion as a citizen constitutes a conflict of interest, even after that member recuses himself from debate or voting as a Commission member.

It should be noted that Mr. Pitts was one of the four Planning Commission members that voted against the Gentleman's Club application in August. Perhaps the City is indeed treading very carefully to address its' issues with Mr. Pitts only after his last vote that could be interpreted as controversial.

The online packet contains no supporting documentation, stating only that "information will be separately provided". Let's hope that openness, transparency, and the free ability to engage in intelligent discourse is respected on Wednesday, and that Mr. Pitts receives a fair and impartial hearing within the public forum required.

Have a good week ahead.

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