As I read through the city of Ashand's grant proposal and intergovernmental agreement paperwork for development of the Normal Avenue project, I am really disturbed by their implications.
First of all, I should note that I attended the last city Planning Commission meeting and, despite the fact that Mr. Goldman, the Senior Planner, told the Tidings that this type of development is "what the city wants" and "should expect" in the future, the truth is that the room was jammed with outraged citizens who do not want every last, remaining vacant lot and open space in town crammed with Soviet-style living units. And they don't expect this kind of arrogance from a so-called "civil" "servant," who appears to be serving not the local community but a larger ideological agenda. It was heart-breaking to witness elderly women practically begging supercilious, insensitive board members with the information that they had invested their remaining savings in a home next to open space filled with environmental diversity, and now the city is going to lower their property value and create even more pollution, traffic and possibly more crime.
It's important to note that the city's current comprehensive plan was committed to keeping these vacant properties zoned for low-density residential development. But, and here's the key, apparently some big, greedy corporate developer applied to annex a parcel within the Normal Avenue site with plans to build twice the density (more profit) allowed by future zoning under the current comprehensive plan. So to get around the comprehensive plan, they are using fake environmental pleadings to get wealthy.
They present their goal (cited in city grant objectives) to reduce CO2 emissions. If you are building 500 new living units — from my experience within my neighborhood — that is potentially 1,000 added automobiles or more. How is that reducing CO2 emissions?
Most people, and especially retired persons, are not going to squeeze into spandex pants and ride a bike to Albertsons. In my neighborhood, retired people from California drive one block to get their mail.
So give me a break. The argument is phony and shows how far the city officials will go to satisfy the dreams of a greedy, corporate developer. The plan mentions the word "green" over and over, green this and green that; the only green will be in the developer's bank account and the city coffers from increased tax revenue. And they're going to raise your water and energy costs to accommodate the increased demand.
The real environmentalists are the elderly people living adjacent to the open spaces, who will tell you about the diverse wildlife inhabiting the spaces: red fox, geese, owls, etc. It's also astonishing that the city has the hubris to suggest that by filling our small town with high-density development, they are able to influence the climate.
The city's disturbing vision is a future of high-density, "tight urban" design. Think about that: "Urban" design. Every single person I talk to in town came here to escape the "tight urban" design. But hey, what's more important? What local citizens want — quality of life in a small town — or what the outside greedy developers, state, federal and U.N. officials expect every town in the U.S. to look like (the development grant involves these outside influences if you follow the chain of money and policy)?
So much for local control and vision. The city will play the charade of inviting citizen input. But maybe if enough citizens attend the next meeting at the council chambers (next to the police station) from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, June 25, they will come to understand that local control is still alive. If not, you will not recognize Ashland as a small town any longer.
Rod Petrone lives in Ashland.