Sometimes growth means stepping on toes

Published 9:53 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2008

There are many people in this world I do not envy — at the moment Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson would be chief among them.

But also near the top of the list are the members of Troy’s planning commission and board of adjustments.

Of all the myriad civic and governmental meetings I’ve attended as a reporter over the last few years, some of the most intense, emotional and frankly vitriolic have been before those two boards.

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That emotions run high at those meetings should be no surprise. If an issue is going before the planning commission or board of adjustment it means somebody wants a change — either to zoning or a variance to building regulations — and we all know how much people like change.

If you want to see a neighborhood get united, just try to build something there the residents do not want. You will see neighbors who have not spoken in 10 years standing arm-in-arm in opposition.

Sometimes the issues are relatively small — somebody wants to put a trailer by his or her house or install another driveway or build a helicopter landing pad. (OK, I made that last one up.) Sometimes the issues are big, like rezoning requests for apartment complexes and other major developments.

In either case the issue is a big deal to the people it will affect, and residents will often show up in force to protest. The developer or property owners will give an equally impassioned defense.

Somehow the planning commission or board of adjustments members are supposed to make an objective decision amid all that emotion, and usually I can predict the outcome. Never have I seen either body approve a request over widespread opposition from residents.

I have heard board members often say that they do not want to force a change onto a neighborhood that clearly does not want it. There is a certain logic to that, but is it a rationale that holds up in every case? Are residents always right?

Last Thursday’s board of adjustment meeting saw a typically impassioned group of residents protesting the development of assisted living apartments near Corman Avenue.

The developers had been before the planning commission last month seeking a high-density rezoning for the project. Residents opposed because a zoning change would allow any type of high-density development in the future. The planning commission concurred and denied the zoning change, but said they would back the developers’ bid to seek a one-time only variance from the board of adjustments.

But at the board of adjustments meeting residents again voiced opposition, seeking limits on the types and ages of the facilities tenants and wanting the facility to have only one entrance.

The frustrated developers withdrew the proposal before the board could take any action. The board of adjustments cannot make the developers bring the proposal back to the table, but if it resurfaces the project is worth another look.

The residents were concerned about how much extra traffic two entrances would bring to Corman Avenue, but how many cars will be going in and out of an assisted living facility?

Besides, with the current zoning in the area, the developers can put in duplexes and fill them with college students (gasp!), a change that area residents would loath even more than assisted living apartments.

Troy is growing, and to sustain that growth the city will need a variety of housing opportunities for many different types of people — not just single families looking to buy homes.

That means we need assisted living facilities and, yes, apartments for college students. There are ways to build some such projects within the city’s current zoning plan, but it’s inevitable that viable and needed housing projects will come up that require variances or changes in zoning. Some people will oppose those changes — maybe even a lot of people — but if it will benefit the city in the long run to make the changes, then the board of adjustments and planning commission will have to be willing to hurt some feelings.

Residents have a right to voice their concerns about changes imposed on their neighborhoods, and it is incumbent on the board of adjustments and planning commission to weigh those concerns carefully. But it is not their jobs to make everyone happy. Troy‘s future housing needs will require changes, even if they are painful for some.

For a glimpse of Troy’s future, look no further than the new comprehensive community master plan being developed. It contains goals to preserve some traditional neighborhoods, but there are plans to revitalize and make changes in others.

Not everything in the plan will come to pass, but what does will arouse concerns in some. (Here’s looking at Highland Avenue.)

The board of adjustments and planning commission will face tough decisions in the future and members will have to weigh a variety of often-conflicting concerns in making their decisions. No mater how they vote, someone will feel wronged.

So I don’t envy them. But I hope both boards will have the foresight to make decisions that will help Troy grow and thrive, even it means stepping on toes. Lots of toes.

Matt Clower is news editor of The Messenger. He can be reached at 670-6323 or