We hear an awful lot about opening the city of Gardner for business.
Too bad it appears to be nothing more than lip-service where small, local businesses are concerned.
We’ve editorialized before about the shameful treatment many businesses receive at the hands of the local planning commission, and we theorized that may be the result of top-down management that starts with city staff. We’d hoped that might change as new leadership took the helm of the community development department.
The jury has reached a verdict, and it’s not pretty. The changes at the top haven’t led to improvement in how the city treats local businesses.
Look no further than the ongoing saga of Gardner’s sole used car lot.
City staff made a grievous mistake. They bypassed the planning commission and issued the lot, on south Gardner Road, a permit to operate a used car lot on the same parcel as a gas station and liquor store.
Staff issued the permit telling the property and lot owners that despite a six month permit expiration date, a renewal would be a simple formality.
The lot owners used the permit and assurance of a simple formality to purchase cars and a permit from the state to sell vehicles, and for approximately six months it was business as usual.
The lot sold cars, paying sales taxes with each sale.
Five months into the business endeavor, the city staff realized they had issued the permit in error. They sent a letter essentially informing the business it would need to relocate or request rezoning. It gave a short deadline, which city officials have since allowed to lapse, as the lot’s future was to be decided before the planning commission and council.
At every turn, city staff has been there continuously moving the goal posts further from the lot’s owners.  At first, they requested $900 in fees for a rezoning application, which staff quickly put before the planning commission with a recommendation to deny.
Then, planning commissioners suggested that maybe the lot owners should request a special use permit instead. Originally, the commissioners threw around a five-year permit, but city staff soon intervened and said it could be for no longer than two years.
Oh, and by the way, they refused to refund the $900 in fees for the rezoning request, despite initially telling the lot’s owners that was the thing to do to keep their business. City staff has suggested the owners withdraw their application, and request a special use permit. Of course, new fees apply.
The so far six-months’ long process and counting, has been anything but a formality. It’s been a slow-moving train wreck fraught with subtle threats that anything the owners bring before city staff will immediately be denied.
It’s the most classless, graceless handling of a city mistake that we have ever seen.
The staff, it appears, thinks waiving the deadline to remove all of the cars from the lot is a magnanimous decision that wipes their hands clean of robbing a local family of its livelihood and life savings.
It’s shameful and embarrassing that the community development department is behaving this way considering the initial fault lies with them. They have it in their power to correct a mistake and right a wrong, and instead, they seem content to compound the problem.
We shouldn’t be surprised, considering this is the same group that once berated a local business for interior red paint that could be seen through a window from the outside of the building. That paint didn’t meet, “standards.”
If the city truly wants to be open for business, they should do what writers do: Show, don’t tell.
The community isn’t hanging an “open” sign at the entrance to the city. They’re paying a lot of lip service instead.