I am writing my point of view on the ongoing development of high-density housing and the proposed High Density Overlay. I have lived in one of the overlay zones for over 30 years. It’s currently zoned agricultural/residential with one home per acre. Many home sites are two acres and could easily be split in two. While to some, the size of these building plots seem exorbitant, the neighborhood populaces I’ve spoken with dearly love the privacy and relative sense that home is away from the hubbub. The spattering of housing complexes through the neighborhood would radically change the atmosphere that brought us to buy and build.
The recent newspaper stories have accurately presented the statements of many proponents of the HDO who repeatedly include affordable in their defense of the HDO. The original working document brought forth by Mr. Levine and staff did specifically stress the focus on “affordable” housing. The earliest support gained traction by backing affordability. But this requirement is no longer directly sought after. Now the emphasis is on “accessible” housing that is to be mostly primary residential. While some higher-density complexes might actually provide affordable housing, this would be up to the discretion of the developer/builder. This generosity of spirit may motivate a few builders, but there is no wording in the HDO to assure this.
The most recent newspaper article contained numerous quotes by county council members and members of the public describing the overlay with the wording “affordable.” They might truly believe there is a connection between the current intention of the proposal and the actual creation of “affordable housing.” What is hoped to occur is that, with the creation of some accessible (whatever that means) primarily high-density housing, affordable housing will be created. However, the misconception that there is a direct connection is unsubstantiated. It is just as likely that the allowable completely free-market homes will be a greater priority as a hoped for windfall for developers/builders. This is where my next point comes in.
This controversy has, to a great extent, become an “ethical issue” wherein the position which has championed the HDO defends the need for increased housing, stimulated by the use of the existing infrastructure of neighborhoods. The proposed beneficiaries of this increased housing are the some-day-to-be, currently faceless, hypothetical persons who, on some future day, will get to choose to live in housing complexes that are accessible. Those who also benefit are in the construction/development industries or those who own lots in the target zone and have no real connection to the neighborhood. Those persons who are harmed believe that their chosen quality of life will be destroyed. We who oppose are actual, flesh and blood, here and now, citizens of the county who have been contributing members to the community. One relevant ethical standard to consider is part of the Hippocratic oath of physicians and other care givers: First–Do No Harm.
There are persons that may own the ideal spots for high-density development. Spot zoning, with restrictions that protect neighbors, and where the neighbors for the largest part don’t expect a rural setting, ought to be encouraged when the actual construction permit agreement is to construct low-income, affordable housing. Zoning ought protect our interests, not destroy them unless unavoidable.
This is a second ethical question. Many comments strongly condemn the “not in my back yard” position which is solidly looking from a self-interested point of view. Democracy is based upon persons having a sacred right to act in their own best interests unless it impinges upon others. Hopefully this will be an enlightened point of view that will strongly consider the “greatest good for the greatest number.” (I can’t quite recall the origin of this notion.) Unfortunately, some county representatives reflect the national government trend that finds it acceptable for an influential minority or a slim majority to act with a selfish or confused interest, which fails to respect victims of the outcome. This win-lose mentality wants to steamroll their agenda over their opposition. A win-win agenda is the ethical position to take. One supporting council member made the unsubstantiated statement that there are as many people for the HDO as there are against.
From my perspective there are not as many supporters of the HDO as there are those opposed. Regardless, this political position, at best, is not seeking a win-win. Creative alternatives that create affordable housing that respect the outcomes of the vast majority can be found.
Two-plus years, it has been stated, have passed while this “solution” has been devised. I appreciate the hard work but don’t prescribe to the notion that the length of time spent working toward a solution must be matched with an increased commitment to the path/approach taken. (Think of our military involvement in Afghanistan, for example.) This is a commitment to our investment of time/money even where the outcome turns against a large portion of our citizenry. This attachment to a controversial approach in the presence of clear opposition, expecting a solution where one is yet to be devised, needs patience and creativity.
Finally, the lack of involvement in the last few meetings since the public workshop does not reflect that there is a consensus of agreement. We just didn’t want to be mistaken for stalkers with the same repeating message. Leave our neighborhood alone.