The wizard of OZ and the levers of power

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 21, 2004

We were off to see the Wizard during the September 15 meeting of the Suffolk City Council, where we witnessed a watershed event in the political life of our City.

This event was the discussion and council review of the rezoning request for the Millstone sub-division and the overall development policies for the south end of the city.

The reason that this event was so important, was it highlighted the shortcomings of the present Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The failure that was highlighted was not a failure of those in the Planning Department; it was the full recognition by many on council, that unbalanced growth controls in the South end of our fair City, are a total and miserable mistake.

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The past downzoning of residential property in 1999 under the UDO has created a significant imbalance in the growth patterns of our City and must be corrected.

Even with our City Manager and senior staff trying to front load the editorial pages with misinformation about the Millstone rezoning (or perhaps better described as a zoning correction) and the impact on the possible expansion of our sleepy little airport, was exposed as a power play.

It was very apparent that the City Manager was trying to direct all things, like the Wizard of OZ by pulling the levers of power and misinformation. It was clearly expressed by many in the South end of the City, that we have had enough of such faulty thinking.

The number of speakers in favor of the project and demanding a correction of the situation affirmed for many on City Council that the time of subterfuge was over.

This was clearly reinforced when Councilwoman Johnson, a person who knows real estate, roared with a passionate demand that the City rethink residential growth and how it must be balanced.

She described in detail the significant level of growth pushed into the North end of our city, creating lopsided growth patterns fueled by mistakes in the Comprehensive Plan and UDO.

This faulty thinking perpetuated by a vocal few on council and implemented by our City Manager with zeal, has stifled all reasonable development and property rights south of &uot;Downtown&uot;.

As our Lady Council member and others expressed so well, we need change in the development policies found in the Comprehensive Plan and UDO.

Ex-Mayor Dickens tried to spread smoke and subterfuge to confuse the issues, but no one was buying his tired old tricks, as used in 1999.

He stated that over 11,000 residential building lots were already in inventory, but as with many of his pronouncements he chose to play a political game with the truth.

It was also clear that he was more interested in basking in the praise of the growth control crowds outside our community, than in setting good and pragmatic policy that worked in our City.

This issue was very clearly highlighted when he neglected to acknowledge that almost all of the eleven thousand lots he indicated were available, could not be built upon in any reasonable way due to service restrictions.

This has driven up the cost of homes and lots in our city artificially to the point that affordable housing may no longer be possible in Suffolk.

Such an illusive argument of smoke and mirrors, that trades on half-truths and miss-notions are not the actions of a &uot;Statesman&uot;.

The UDO and existing Comprehensive Plan that some on council cling to so tightly, has stripped personal property rights without compensation and has resulted in faulty growth patterns.

Councilman Dickens has constantly failed to show any of the pragmatic political courage that he has talked of for the last few months.

Unlike Chris Jones’ example in the state legislature, Councilman Dickens continues to play the game of dividing and confusing the issues.

Then to top it all off, he had the gall to attempt parliamentary subterfuge to halt Councilwoman Johnson’s substitute motion to approve the project.

Such actions will not be forgotten when we get to elect four of these actors in 2006.

The attempt by some in this process to influence the outcome from behind the scenes before the public hearing, clearly over-stepped propriety.

I would even suggest that this is perhaps the crystallizing event that demands a full review of such actions and public policies.

These events directly exhibit why we need a stronger Mayor, elected by the people and accountable to them, only. Until our representatives place a higher value on doing the right thing, rather than delaying and deferring to the comfort of &uot;we’ll look at that issue after we study it further&uot;, our community will continue to hang in the breach.

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at