Do City Leaders Choose Developers over Neighborhoods?
Claims of bias are commonplace today, from national politics to issues closer to home. How are we to evaluate our leaders’ objectivity, balance and fairness to all? Of equal importance, what does it matter and how might bias in local leadership impact us in College Station?
Facts Are Facts
A careful examination of the actual voting record of City Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission provides a firm, factual basis for evaluating whether or not individual members are biased in one direction or another. The following tables show the 2018 votes of both bodies. It appears clear that certain individuals virtually never say NO to development, while others show a reasonable concern when there are undesirable impacts. The colored bar at the top of each table below shows our perspective on the tendency of each member to be developer-biased.
Planning and Zoning Commission
Six of seven members appear biased. They overrode staff’s recommendation to deny rezoning 100% of the time Of the 310 votes they cast, only 7 were NO (98% YES). The minutes show when citizens spoke against the rezoning, they still voted Yes 100% of the time.
While they approved all developer rezoning requests, they essentially voted no to the only neighborhood request, which was the Southside Conservation Overlay. Technically, they voted YES, but first they arbitrarily removed all of College Park from protection, which include half the people seeking protection as well as the heart of the overlay. We call that a NO vote.
Four of the seven members appear biased. Of 200 votes cast by these members, only 2 were NO, and these are misleading. The reason for voting NO was that staff was in the process of changing the related zoning rules. Setting this aside, they voted YES 100% of the time, in every instance voting against the citizens who protested at the meeting.
Two members appear more balanced. They voted YES 85% of the time, which is reasonable as most commercial growth is good for the residents and the city. But in the other 15% of cases where the change would damage families or neighborhoods, they said NO.
For more detail on these decisions, a video archive of P&Z and City Council meetings is available online at http://cstx.gov/index.aspx?page=3882 . The table below shows the date of the meeting when the item was discussed to help you locate it in the archive.
Does Bias Matter?
When leaders virtually never say NO to developers rezoning demands the results can reduce residential property values, create unsafe neighborhood conditions for children, increase congestion on already overloaded roads, or burden the city with large financial liabilities when developers aren’t required to pay their fair share of infrastructure costs.
The Bigger Picture
The impact of bias in the City Council extends beyond zoning decisions. For example, the City Council has done nothing to stop the damage Stealth Dorms are doing to families living in the heart of the city. They’ve also allowed us to accumulate over $300M in unfunded liabilities, largely by not requiring developers to pay their share of the infrastructure costs. Finally they fail to articulate a consistent vision for making College Station a great place to live, other than the belief that it will happen if we allow unrestrained development.
What’s To Be Done?
CSAN believes the first step is to elect City Council members who are unlikely to choose developers over neighborhoods.
For 2018 we’ve endorsed Joe Guerra Jr. and Dennis Maloney for City Council because we believe they are competent and unbiased. Joe Guerra Jr. is a licensed city planner and traffic expert and Dennis Maloney has served on City Council and numerous other volunteer city committees. College Station is certain to continue to grow. A competent, balanced, and unbiased perspective is needed to ensure it continues to be a great place to live while doing so.