By Mike Phillips
City Hall was packed last night. Standing room only of citizens, many of whom came because a proposal to build 12 townhouses in the heart of the historic district was back on the agenda.
And then it wasn’t.
The announcement was simple: the applicant had withdrawn without warning because one of the heirs to the property had not yet signed a release to let the developer buy the five historic buildings – if the plan was approved – and tear them down.
The neighborhood was there in force to defend not just those five houses, but the character of the district. They had gathered in meetings and decided what they should say to the City Commission. They had carefully constructed and rehearsed the three minutes each of them would be allowed to speak.
So instead of making their speeches, they asked questions: Where in the city codes does it say that every last heir has to sign off on such an application? And why was the city not following a regulation that when an individual house is demolished, the underlying plat remains? And why the big, last-minute surprise?
It emerged that City Attorney Tammy Bach had required the missing signature. She said it was not a usual requirement but because the townhouse request was so high-profile she thought it necessary. So apparently, the applicant had withdrawn on her advice.
And two theories emerged among the neighbors: It was simple incompetence on the city’s part. Or the city staff – which had supported the application – was getting cold feet because the neighborhood was so organized and was getting assistance from a high-end lawyer who wrote a memo that many people think absolutely crushed the city attorney’s legal reasoning.
Who can say? But the truth will out. So stay tuned.