Whom Does Town Government Serve?

Posted on October 3, 2018

I’m not going to answer this one.  You decide for yourself.

Here’s the story.  MAC zoning allows buildings that are up to four floors and up to 62′ tall.   That’s the limit.  Here’s what the law says:

A. The maximum height shall be the lesser of four stories or 54 feet, as shown in Figure 18-95.9.1, Determination of Height

(I say 62′, because the law allows another 8 feet of parapet walls above the 54 foot limit.  E.g., the tower on the Chic-Fil-A will be literally 62′ tall.)

Then why, when drafting modifications to the law (.pdf), did the revisions include this clause (in red):

A. The maximum height shall be the lesser of four stories or 54 feet, as shown in Figure 18-95.9.1, Determination of Height. The building shall have the appearance of, at most, four stories when viewed from every cardinal direction.

That seems peculiar, doesn’t it?  I noted the oddity of that at the time.  If the law clearly limits buildings to four stories, why say that the building must appear to be four stories?

Because, as it turns out:

  • The law apparently doesn’t limit buildings to four stories.
  • A developer wanted to cram six stories into the next MAC building, and
  • I guess the developer needed a little help preempting any flack about that.

Here’s a clip from the plans for 380 Maple West.  Count the floors, please.  The dotted line is ground level.  I count six.  I guess a lawyer could say, five floors above ground level, as the sixth floor is only halfway above ground, and then only at the rear of the building.  But, surely, five at least.

But, wait … doesn’t MAC limit a building to four stories?

And now you know why Our Town Government chose to amend the law this way.  A reasonable person might have read MAC, as written, and said that it limited buildings to four floors.  But the developer of 380 Maple West wanted to cram a six-floor building into the allowable MAC height.  So the Mayor and Town Council were pre-emptively re-writing the law to make sure the builder could do that.

So, with a little assist from the Town, as long as a building looks like it has just four floors, it’s allowable under MAC.

So, ask yourself, whom is our Town government working for here?  Was that pre-emptive change in the law for our benefit, or for the developer’s benefit?

I’ll give you a hint:  This is the same Town Council that let property owners on Maple Avenue oversee the writing of MAC in the first place.

CODA:  A particularly galling aspect of this is that members of the Planning Commission and the Town Council publicly smeared the opponents to MAC over this exact issue of floor count.  They more-or-less called anti-MAC advocates liars, because some advocates implied that the law allowed six-story buildings.  (What they actually said is that the 62′ MAC height was as tall as a normal six-story building.  Which is true.)

These are the same folks who continue to misstate the actual height of the buildings — and criticize those who get it right.  The same folks who call this a 54′ tall building, and publicly rebuke those who say differently.

Town Council Members, Planning Commission Members:  Please count the floors in the black-and-white diagram above and tell me how many you see.