October 23, 2014

‘Open for business’ requires pro-business culture

If city officials are serious about hanging an “Open for Business” sign on at Gardner’s city limits, they should start by cleaning house on the planning commission.
The process, fortunately, is somewhat underway, as new city policies are term limiting spots on the commission. It can’t happen fast enough. While there are a few members who treat business owners and property owners with respect, they are in the minority.
The things that happen in those meetings are absolute abominations.
At many meetings, we have witnessed commissioners lecturing business owners about choices that have nothing to do with existing city code.
For example, one business owner listened for several minutes as commissioners debated and lectured about what kind of fencing commissioners would like to see around the property. The fencing the business owners proposed met city standards, but commissioners did not think the fencing selected was attractive enough for the property’s location.
It is not uncommon for business owners seeking approval for new construction or additions to existing buildings to be endlessly quizzed about what type of trees they will use for landscaping. And then they’re told that commissioners prefer, say, Oak trees to Elm trees.
It’s out-of-hand.
We admit to being strong proponents of personal property rights. We appreciate and understand the necessity of balancing those rights against community standards, however, many on the commission have gone too far the other way demanding that their personal preferences be met.
We listened in disbelief as planners told the owners of a used car lot south of town that two years is plenty of time to get established and purchase a new location from which to sell used cars. Maybe two years is plenty of time, but the business owner was appearing before the planning commission in part, due to a city staff mistake.
Yes, it’s a tricky mess in which the city has landed. The lot location isn’t ideal, but the family has invested its life savings in starting a business within Gardner city limits. Every effort should be made to keep them here.
Instead, the owners are practically being ridden out of town on the rails, despite the thousands in sales tax the business owner will potentially put in city coffers. Meanwhile, the city absconded $920 from the property owner, requiring them to rezone the property. Now it turns out they may not need to rezone (and even if they did, city staff has already recommended that the request be denied). City staff has told commissioners that they may not be able to refund the $920.
It’s possible that the commission reflects the culture of the city staff. Hopefully that’s changing as new people are now working in the planning department. Right now, the “Closed for Business” appears to remain firmly in place at Gardner’s borders.

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