I have been a community organizer for more than fifteen years. In that time I've helped communities organize around issues ranging from vacant properties to low performing schools to human trafficking. The proposal of Baker's relocation to a residential block is a story that happens in communities repeatedly. It is a story about valuing profit over people, the ignoring or skirting of laws and regulations created to protect people, and the story of a false pitting of "business interests" vs. quality of life interests.
The story of Baker's relocation is about a wealthy investor, Tim Crock, buying a property with little regard for the zoning code and his interest in making a good deal of profit by renting it to Baker's. It is about that same person pleading that there is no other location for Baker's and that denying this request would put hardship on a local business and "cost jobs." This is a similar justification for why it is o.k. to put a landfill in a low income community or why we must not ask questions about the impact of fracking on water supplies. It is a false dichotomy that says for business and our economy to thrive our communities, environment, and neighborhoods have to pay a price.
That isn't true and it doesn't have to be that way in society or in the case of Baker's. Tim Crock is a wealthy guy and is under no apparent financial pressures. He can spend some time to see his investment in that property be both successful and consistent with the zoning code. Residents, including myself, have even offered to help him in that endeavor. Baker's and the City can find a Industrial Zoned property within the City or in a nearby city or township and his business can continue and be successful.
Baker's is asking the Zoning Board of Appeals to be able to locate a business that is deemed industrial to a residentially zoned property and block. To go from residential to industrial use is equivalent to changing the use of the land. According to the law, the Zoning board "shall not have the authority to authorize, through the granting of a variance, a change in the use of any parcel of land."
Even if that was not the case, Baker's relocation would also fail to meet the two basic requirements of non-conforming use:
(1) That the new use is similar in character to the previous nonconforming use by virtue of the fact that it is equally appropriate or more appropriate to the type of zoning district in which it is located.
(2) That the new use will not be any more intrusive to the neighborhood than the previous nonconforming use.
Yet in many campaigns like this one, the law is often on people's side and they still lose. They are out organized by the other side's money, ability to manipulate the legal process, or the false crisis created around the idea of jobs vs. the quality of life. And in tough economic times, the false jobs argument can seem compelling. In fairness to the City of Kent, our professional staff have been fair and responsive in addressing this situation. While we do not agree with their
policy to not enforce the law while applications are pending, the staff has been consistent in responding.
Community organizing is based on a few simple ideas. One of them is that people should have a voice in the decisions that impact their lives. Another is that only through organization and collective action do people stand a chance against corporations or moneyed interests.
And last community organization is a basic vehicle for people to protect their families, secure opportunity, and to hold institutions accountable.
Here in Kent, we've built a community organization of more than 170 people to protect our neighborhood and to uphold the zoning code as it relates to Baker's. This is a very personal issue for me as my children's tree house would be less than 25 feet from Baker's center of operations. Imagine taking your children to a playground that was feet away from a towing, trucking, and auto repair shop.
On June 18th, there will be a hearing at City Hall at 7:00 about Baker's relocation. Please join us.