Archive for: ‘July 2006’

Small Town News – Cumberland Farms: the P&Z Votes

July 31, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue

The view looking South down Main Street. Town hall is on the right, and the Cumberland Farms on the left.

The view looking North up Main St. The Cumberland Farms sign is seen as well as the Gulf gas station with one island and Coke machine. Make a left down Elm St. and within a mile you reach a highway.

The P&Z Vote

The P&Z vote was held in the downstairs meeting room at the town hall that can safely hold about 40 people per fire regulations. That night, it was standing room only and people were waiting outside to get in. Before the meeting started, it was proposed by the citizens that the meeting be moved upstairs to the auditorium that can hold 150 people, but the P&Z refused with stony faces.

The meeting was called to order. The chairman recused himself from the Cumberland Farms matter. More about that later. At some point the issue of correspondence was raised. Apparently, the petition with 350 signatures to reopen the public hearing was dismissed after the applicant’s (Cumberland Farms) Lawyer wrote a letter citing a Supreme Court case indicating that such motions are not in order. The citizens’ group’s member lawyer wrote a response saying the applicant’s case was off point (and he should know, since his job entails following Supreme Court cases). The applicant’s lawyer’s letter was accepted into evidence and the citizens’ were not. So, even though no more evidence was to be accepted, the applicant’s evidence was. That did not seem right to anyone.

A P&Z member made a motion to approve the application and after acceptance of the motion the matter was open for discussion. The mostly female P&Z kibitzed endlessly and in an uninformed manner about the canopies, roof pitch, pumps, number of islands, pumps and the like. Thirty minutes were spent trying to determine how big 18 inches was. They were obviously biased for the applicant and the one dissenter was viciously attacked. It was like watching cats on a mouse. Things were said like, “Well Jane, I wouldn’t know, you’re the scientist.” They were obviously biased, bitchy, uninformed, unprofessional, and an embarrassment to the town. Everybody thought so. Our P&Z in action. Gotta love it.

I worried that they would ignore the nonconforming issue (triple the gasoline within 200 feet of a school and place of assembly on an unapproved site) and went to Joe, the First Selectman, and whispered to him about it. He said that he would mention to them during the break. Later in the meeting they did ask the P&Z lawyer about conformance. The lawyer advised that when weighing conformance one has to look at the big picture. The total conformity of the current sites versus the conformity of the future site needs to be compared. So, the proposed redevelopment will result in a single lot which is significantly less non-conforming than either of the two lots which are to be combined. The acting Chairperson smiled. She summarized as follows: the new lot will either be in compliance with regulations as to gross lot area, impervious coverage, and landscaped area, lot frontage, building setbacks, parking and delivery. The new development will be in conformance with the Greenways project, will not depreciate property values, will improve public safety by upgrading fuel systems, new traffic flows will eliminate unsafe conditions, and the two service bays at the current station will be eliminated.

I, as well as the rest of the audience, was so frustrated and exasperated by this time that I couldn’t help it and I cried out, “Yeah, and three times the gas is so much safer!” At least I got a laugh from the people around me and a stern warning look from the acting bitch chair.

It was announced that hours of operation would be from 5:00 am to midnight. There was a pained groan from the audience.

The P&Z reduced the number of islands from 4 to 3 and approved the application in a vote of 3 in favor and 2 against. So, just like that, we have a new Cumberland Farms gas station in our town.

The Appeals

Shortly thereafter, the citizens’ group hired a lawyer and filed two appeals: one with the Zoning Board of Appeals and the other with the Supreme Court in our State. We had a tough time finding appellants, but we located some. The aggrieved are a couple who own a local Bed and Breakfast down the street from the proposed gas station who filed based on possible loss of business, and family who live on Elm street who filed based on loss of property value due to increased traffic from the highway to the new station, and a couple who own a business adjacent to the gas station who filed based on possible loss of business and decreased property values. The next step is waiting for Cumberland Farms to challenge our appellants. Money to pay the lawyer was collected from the citizens’ group and letters for further donations were sent to people that signed the petition. More money is still needed.

I served the ZBA appeal myself. I drove to the ZBA Chair’s ranch house and knocked on his door and then stepped back a few paces (as I was taught in sales school). It was a lovely day. He answered and I served him. He signed, but was grouchy. He said something like, “Well it’s summer and so no one may be around to hear this.”

I responded with, “You have a lovely garden. Are those lupines? I can’t even get them started in my garden.”

And so we talked about his garden. It turns out that he had just had a cherry tree cut down and had split the wood himself. He had humming birds coming to a feeder. His house was on a beautiful spot that I had never been to in our town.

Anyway, back to the story. After the Subway ZBA precedent, the ZBA voted that it was not their role to overturn P&Z decisions on matters. At their next meeting, they were reminded of this and although our matter was not on their agenda, they decided to drop it altogether. The town squandered an opportunity to settle this matter on the cheap. That is how I see it.

Our hired lawyer feels that we have a really solid case so long as we can get our day in the Supreme Court. So, here we sit, waiting for a challenge from Cumberland Farms to our appellants. People are talking about mediation. But we are just waiting. I will report on any action on this matter as it happens.

The Recusant P&Z Chair

By the way, the P&Z Chair recused himself because he was a town employee. About six months ago, there was a town vote on whether town employees could be on the P&Z and Inland Wetlands Commissions (as there is an obscure writ in State law indicating that they cannot). The town had voted at that time that they could not. However, the town ignored that vote and the Chair continued on the P&Z. We still don’t know why he recused himself on the night of the vote.

But, sometime later, there was another town vote held on whether town employees can serve on the P&Z and Inland Wetlands Commissions. There was heavy turn out for the vote. Of course our entire citizens’ group was there (now up to some 30 in number) and all of the town employees and Joe’s cronies. We had even turned to the anti-government group in town by mentioning it to our mailman and he made sure all of his buddies showed up to vote against it too. Networking at its best!

The meeting was held in the upstairs auditorium at town hall. Joe ran the meeting. As soon as the meeting was opened Sean moved for a written ballot. This was readily seconded and approved. Many folks were pissed because we had already voted this down. Why was Joe raising the issue again? Joe explained that he thought that the town lawyer had confused the issue the last time by indicating that it was not needed to the public and that might have been why some voted against it. But, now the town has been sued for it (it was included in the citizens’ group lawsuit since the chair closed the Cumberland Farms hearing so suddenly) and it has been brought to his attention by the P&Z lawyer who feels it could be a problem.

A citizen (from our group) asked how we could change appointments of P&Z members to elections instead of selections by Joe. Applause sounded for this comment. The town lawyer answered that that could be done by getting a petition for a town meeting and making it so, but that in her opinion that would be a mistake, since volunteers were hard to find. (Though, with enough meetings like the P&Z vote, we would not have a problem finding them, was my thought.) The citizen asked how many signatures such a petition would need. No one knew. After the meeting we found out it was only 20. The same citizen also asked how we could make the vote so that if it was decided that town employees could not be on these commissions, they could be removed, since we had already voted such, but they were still acting on the commissions. Applause sounded for this comment too. It was explained by the town lawyer that it was too late for this as the vote was already written and published, but that the town could make this happen by petition.

Discussion continued. Sean said that his concern was improper influence, loss of objectivity and fair representation for the town by having town employees on town commissions. He noted that the P&Z Chairman’s office for his town job, he assists Joe, is right outside Joe’s office in the town hall.

Sometime later, the written ballot vote ensued and took quite some time since there was a big crowd. The final vote was 40 for having town employees on the P&Z and Inland Wetlands Commissions and 56 against. The motion did not carry. Hooray!

Unfortunately, now the town is emotionally split. Town employees have taken all of this very personally since it was personal for them right from the start. The P&Z Chair continues to lead the P&Z meetings, showing an arrogant and dismissive regard for the vote of the people as if daring them to change it.

Stay tuned for the next big chain invasion next week…

Sunday Comics – Area 51su

July 30, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue


Area 51su Gay Art Gallery is an extensive and great source for Oliver Frey and many other artists’ work, such as Ulf, that can also be seen on Pete’s site. The man who puts together the site remains a mystery. Check out his gallery and enjoy, but please be an adult.

Revised: See Oliver Frey’s Wet Dreams at Pete’s site today!

Friday Fantasy – For The Lovelemming

July 28, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue


Dear Larry,

I know that you are moving soon, so I hired Manny to help you out. He is a pro at this and works very hard. Actually, he works up quite a sweat and may need a shower at some point. Oh yeah, and he only works in the nude. Hope that’s not a problem for you. I hope he is a big help; at least he’s easy on the eyes. Have a great move!

Your pal,

Sue

Jason Robards Helps Me Smuggle – England I

July 25, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue

We sped back to the airport in Essen much the same as when we had arrived that morning. But the plane we boarded to go to merry old England was on British Airways. I was thinking, finally, everyone will speak English. Then the stewardess came over and asked for my beverage order and when I asked for tea, she said something absolutely unintelligible. Her pronunciation was so clipped, that I could not make out the consonants at the beginning or end of each word. It sounded like “’ah’ or ‘oh’”. A nearby passenger had to lean over and say, “She wants to know whether you want your tea hot or cold?” How embarrassing.

We landed at Heathrow in no time and grabbed one of those clunky looking old black cabs to take us to our hotel for night. It was a pretty nondescript joint and the food was typical English fare; uninspired was the best you could say.

Raz picked us up the next morning for the appointment with the doctor in Oxford we were meeting. It was nice to see him again. Dr. D and I did our show for the doctor and it went well. He indicated that he would participate. Hooray!

While there, we toured the Oxford campus and I bought an overpriced sweatshirt with the Oxford University Crest. We saw the famous Blackwell’s Book store and Dr. D had to go in.


I decided to check out the Adventures of Tintin books, which were written by Herge, that I had seen on display in the Brussels airport. (Click on pictures to enlarge.)



When I was a kid, my older brother always had them in French. I, not having learnt French yet, could not read them, but was fascinated by the pictures. What really intrigued me was that Tintin, a journalist who lived in Brussels, traveled all over the world (and even off the world to the moon). I think that these books fed my wanderlust early on. The books are now published in many languages, including English and I figured that I could buy some for my nieces and nephews for the holidays. I loved looking at the covers of the books. But, I was packed so light, that I didn’t want to carry books in my bag. I decided that I could order them on Amazon when I got home and that is what I did.

Then we went to the Ashmolean Museum to see their Egyptian exhibits. I am always completely mystified by Egyptian artifacts. There were tons at the Ashmolean. Vertical glass cases from floor to ceiling lined the walls and horizontal cases filed the middle of the rooms. Free standing statues dotted the rooms here and there.

Bronze Bastet

I keep thinking that real people used these artifacts long, long ago. Pots, dishes, lamps, tablets, jewelry, just so many little bits of the stuff needed for life. These people existed and lived their lives just as we do. How did they get by? What did they do? Sometimes when I look at statues of people’s faces I can imagine them as alive, even though they lived millennia ago. I am also fascinated by hieroglyphics and can stare at them endlessly. I have always wanted to visit Egypt and see the pyramids, but it has been too risky for a long time now. I bought a small mug with hieroglyphics on it for a souvenir.

It was time to hit the road again and drive to Manchester for our next potential investigator visit. We all piled into Raz’ car and off we went.

Small Town News – Cumberland Farms: Citizen Action

July 24, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue

As you might imagine, local denizens of our fair town were not happy with the way the Planning & Zoning hearing was conducted. People started talking outside the Town Hall afterwards and a meeting was set up at someone’s house for an evening later that week. A dozen or so folks got together and formed a citizens’ group to decide what could be done next. Included in this group were Sean, the other architect, the lawyer, local business men and women, townspeople, and myself.

It was decided that we needed a letter to the P&Z to protest the early closing of the town hearing in an attempt to reopen the hearing and we would attach a petition to that letter. So, a petition was prepared that pretty much said that we were not happy with the way the town center was being planned as far as the gas station went and wanted the hearing to be reopened. The petition was signed by 350 folks over a weekend in a town with only 3,100 people. This letter and petition was submitted to the P&Z and the first selectman.

It was also decided that since the next meeting was to decide whether the project would be approved or not, we should be prepared for approval and prepare an appeal. Appeals could be filed with the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) or the state supreme court. The ZBA is free, except for time and preparation while the court is costly. We figured that it would cost as least $10,000. Names of lawyers were discussed. It was decided that both avenues would be taken.

Also, since the hearing was closed, nothing could be legally discussed with a member of the P&Z. The only option was to go to the first selectman, Joe.

Joe, a democrat, has been in office for 17 years. He is a very devoted selectman and loves the town. A true blue collar man, he can be seen plowing the streets, working as a constable, as well as applying for grants for funding. As a matter of fact, he was the second person to respond to my house when I had a seizure once. I have been very pro Joe ever since we moved here. So it was very hard for me to walk into his office to give him a piece of my mind.

This is what I told him while I looked him straight in the eye:

I have worked in a big corporation for 22 years and some of it was as a safety officer. I will tell you that if my company was looking at installing three times more gasoline adjacent to an elementary school and across from a public meeting area, I would tell them not to fool with it. It is just not safe. I don’t care what fire suppression systems they have. The zoning regulations say so. No increase of a nonconforming use within 200 feet of a school or place of public assembly. If I was this town’s safety officer, that is what I would tell you. Don’t fool with it. Have you asked your fire department about it? What do they think? It is just not safe. Not one more drop of gas there. One more drop and I remember; I will blame you.

He is a politician and dealt with it well. But I could see the look in his eyes. He heard me. But, damn him he wasn’t going to do anything about it. He told me that he wasn’t on the P&Z (which is bullshit because as first selectman he is on all such commissions) and his hands were tied. But that the P&Z lawyer was going to be there to advise them on this matter and we would both see that. He kept saying that he worried that if we drove Cumberland Farms away, who would come to our town?

I asked him to have faith in the town and others would come. My remark fell on deaf ears. I asked that we find out if the regulations would be followed at least. He said that he would be there and we would see that they were.

Other members of our group came to talk to Joe also. No one enjoyed success at all.

I had this terrible feeling that we were going to end up paying lawyers a shit load of money just to enforce the goddamn zoning regulations. Ack! Frustration!

Next: The P&Z votes and the surprise ending (?).