A few years ago I was helping some local churches and neighborhood groups on an effort to relocate an adult book store that was just one block away from a local elementary school. The community had high poverty rates and dozens of abandoned buildings and residents felt that cleaning up the business strip could help stabilize and revitalize the area. At a planning meeting, one of the residents asked how it was even possible that an adult book store would land up a block away from an elementary school in the first place. He said, "I am sure this would never happen in the wealthy township just a few miles away."
I responded, "You are exactly right. It is because that community is organized and what happens in neighborhoods is determined by what people tolerate. And people know that low income communities tend to be the least organized so they are the first place they look to plant these kind of businesses." Our quality life is inexorably tied to the strength of the communities we live in and to the extent that they are organized. In the last few decades, many people have flocked to gated communities in attempt to protect their quality of life through isolation and restriction of who comes and goes. But I would argue that gated communities are not the solution. The solution is vibrant community organization that brings together diverse people around a common vision of a healthy neighborhood.
The campaign opposing the relocation of Baker's is both about the necessity of upholding the zoning law but it also about every day people shaping the kind of community they want to live in. And ultimately, the City of Kent will thrive or fail on the quality of its neighborhoods not its downtown. There are some who say that residents should "compromise" with Baker's Towing and that we are being unreasonable by asking that the zoning code be enforced and followed.
When is it o.k. to compromise the health of your neighborhood? The safety of your children? The stability of your property values? The right to live on a quiet and peaceful block? The zoning law that we all created to protect neighborhoods?
The answer is that it is never o.k. to compromise on these basic values. Communities are determined by what they tolerate and asking us to tolerate the change of use of a residential property to an industrial purpose is something that no neighborhood should accept. The truth is that there are plenty of other properties for Mr. Baker to rent in the region. The City of Kent and others have multiple options for him if he would pursue them. And he is not the owner of the property that he is trying to move to. Tim Crock, who is a wealthy businessman, owns the property and neighbors have reached out to him to help him find a tenant that fits the zoning code.
Mr. Baker has had the decision on his application delayed two times allowing him to continue to illegally operate for nearly 3 months on a residential block. It is time for this issue to end and for Mr. Baker to move to an industrial zoned lot that supports his business. Please come and join us on August 20th at the City Council Chambers for the next Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. Stand with us for great neighborhoods in Kent.