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City Council, August 21

Accommodation Overlay extension a dangerous precedent
An incident at Burke High School
Marc Knapp

Last night’s meeting was long on presentations and recognitions, and short on items of substance. One of the recognitions was of Ms. Karen Brack, the new Fire Chief. With the lauding by Council members, she was sworn into office. And although there were few other items of importance in our view, one in particular got our attention.

A group head by Mr. Miles Barkley applied to the City to have the Accommodation Overlay placed over two contiguous properties on Calhoun Street that are next to the Marriot Hotel on the corner of Calhoun and Meeting Streets. The application in itself may not be unusual. But the fact that the City and Mayor opposed it, and all Council members approved it with only a modicum of discussion is very unusual. The approval by Council may make it difficult for the City to oppose other extensions of the Accommodation Overlay. And if it cannot do this, some teeth are lost in the City’s planning process.

The properties, which total 0.38 acres are presently zoned commercial. The developer wanted the extension of the Accommodation Overlay to give it the option to construct a small hotel (less than 50 rooms) Mr. Barkely told Council that all parking would be on site and that no variances or exceptions would be sought. He said that the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association (HANA) supported his application and the Preservation Society “did not oppose it”.

Mr. Tim Keane, Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, told Council that the City had long studied the placement of the Overlay. It had been confined largely along the major corridors of Meeting and King Street, and the Market Street area. The overlay was also considered a development tooI to help distressed areas. He reminded Council of a plan to introduce it in the Radcliffe/Elliottborough areas, but it was discarded because of opposition by residents. He said the City was opposed to the extension proposed along Calhoun Street and noted that an approval by Council could set a precedent, and by implication, one which the City would have difficulty in opposing. He also noted that the Planning Commission was divided 3-3 when the application came before it.

Only two citizens spoke against the proposal. The President of the Mazyck-Wraggborough neighborhood association voiced concern about the developments that were planned or underway around her neighborhood. She was very worried about the increased traffic flow and particularly through her neighborhood as motorists cut through it to avoid congestion. My associate, Warwick Jones. also spoke and reminded Council that HANA had unanimously voted to oppose the extension of the Accommodation Overlay along Calhoun Street from the Galliard Auditorium to East Bay Street two years ago. Some members of HANA were confused by the change in policy. He also said that the property next to those over which the overlay would be extended had been posted for sale. The purchaser could make an application for an extension of the overlay. Because of the precedent that would be created if the application before Council tonight were approved, the City would be hard pressed to reject a further extension. He reminded Council that a rezoning goes with the property and not the developer. If the Barkley group bought the property, it could well plan a larger hotel. And so could a buyer of all the properties. And would the City 50-room limit on new hotels south of Calhoun withstand a court challenge?

Council member White noted that HANA was in favor of the present plan of the developer. But it was not in favor of anything larger. He asked that this be put in minutes for the record, presumably to deter the developer from moving to enlarge the project by acquiring adjacent sites.

Mayor Riley was the only person on Council to oppose the application. He spoke of his respect for Mr. Barkly and his contribution to the City. But he supported Director Keane and echoed many of his comments. He also spoke of the precedent that the approval would create and the possible adverse consequences, such as an extension along Calhoun beyond that presently proposed.

A vote was taken and that was it! All in favor with the Mayor opposed. Strange!

An incident at Burke High School
It was not easy to get the facts relating to an issue that took up some time in the Ways and Means segment. It came up in discussion over the renewal of a number of School Resource Officer programs. Under these programs, the City Police Department assigns officers to certain schools. Some of the cost is borne by the County School District and CFO Bedard commented that no City funding is involved. Interestingly one Council member asked what a School Resource Officer does. We don’t recall the response or if indeed there was one. But what we learned later is that Resource Officers assist in maintaining discipline. And it seems one got carried away, in the presence of Council member Mitchell.

Our understanding is that a student of Burke High School had been restrained and was being interviewed by a Resource Officer. He was a problem student and once had been expelled. The student was not exactly passive but was not acting violently. But it seems the Resource Office took offence at something and threw the student against the wall.

The facts seemed to be known to most Council members and some refused to support the renewal of the Resource Office Agreements until a satisfactory report and resolution were obtained from Chief Mullen. They pointed out that the incident occurred some weeks ago and that Chief Mullen was to report to Council member Mitchell on the outcome of the investigation. He had not done so and some spoke as if this were a major shortcoming. Chief Mullen said it was something else. The investigation was complete but not concluded. There was another person he had to meet with. But it seemed the meeting with Council member Mitchell would occur shortly.

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