A recently completed building on a well-traveled street seems to have received a number of unusual accommodations from the city for the benefit of a local, apparently well connected, developer.
Two zoning variances for parking and another variance for setback from the street were granted. In addition, the sidewalk, rather than remaining in place and consistent with the rest of the block, was moved closer to the street. Generally speaking, the city wants to keep sidewalks further away from busy streets, not move them closer. This developer, however, was allowed to jog the sidewalk closer to the street, away from this new building, and then jog it back away from the street past the new building. You can tell the new sidewalk by the change in color.
The rest of the street has straight sidewalks, similar to this.
But this developer apparently wanted the sidewalk moved, so the sidewalk was moved.
At its most narrow point, the newly angled sidewalk is 37” wide, a violation of guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), which specify 48” wide sidewalks. The plan submitted to the City, by the way, had this sidewalk at 5'wide. But, apparently that's not a problem.
In addition, the developer presented to the City a landscaping plan that included planter boxes at the end of the landscaping, beyond the developer’s property line, on city property.
That’s an apparent violation of the City’s Municipal Code. But for this developer? Well, it was approved, of course.
Finally, the light poles on the street, prior to this development, were all in alignment, on the parkway, between the sidewalk and the street, just like this.
In jogging the configuration of the sidewalk away from the property and closer to the street, the light pole ended up in a rather odd place. It’s still in alignment with the other light poles on the street. It’s just no longer in a parkway, but practically in the middle of the sidewalk.
We can find no other light poles in the City similarly situated.
So who is this well connected developer?
Our Mayor, Steve Chirico.
The Mayor, along with his son-in law and three others, is one of the owners of Washington Capital Management, LLC, which developed and owns The Washington, at 720 N Washington Street. Nice big building. It’s the one he built to move his business off of Ogden. (He apparently forgot that right after he was elected in 2015 he said that Ogden was the street on which “we need to fill those vacant buildings.' )
As a private citizen, the Mayor is entitled to the same development and property rights as anyone else. It’s reasonable to ask, though, if the average, non-connected developer or homeowner would have City staff defending to City Council moving a sidewalk away from the building and closer to a very busy street and then moving it back away from the street, allowing private landscaping on City property, and putting a light pole near the middle of a sidewalk on a major thoroughfare like Washington.
It’s also reasonable in this instance to ask whose interests Mayor Chirico is looking out for.
The public's interest doesn’t seem to be better served by jogging a sidewalk closer to Washington Street, then jogging it back away from the street.
The public's interest doesn't seem to be served with jogged 37" wide sidewalks, when ADA guidelines call for 48"wide sidewalks.
It also doesn't seem that the public's interest is served by putting planters on City property, in the parkway.
Putting a light pole close to the middle of the sidewalk on Washington street doesn't seem to benefit the public either.
The Mayor’s interest as a developer certainly seems to be benefiting though, or he wouldn’t have included those features in the plans for The Washington for City approval. Which, of course, Mayor Chirico received.
In the grand scheme of things, this instance isn't critical to the City. But, once again, it raises the question of which role is primary for the developer-Mayor, the role of the developer with the personal financial interest, or the role of the Mayor?
The answer on The Washington seems pretty clear.