Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Example of Our Town Cult

Stuck on my door was a yellow slip saying that I had a package at the post office that I need to sign for. I wasn't expecting a package and standing in line at the post office full of the local cult mailing off their various money making schemes boxed up in cardboard wasn't terribly appealing but the thought that something important enough that it needed my signature persuaded me to brave the line. A half hour later, I reached the front and handed the notification to the postmaster who wandered off to the back to find it. When he came back, I saw in big letters stamped across the front of the envelope, "The City of Maharishiville." Uh-oh, that can never be good. I almost didn't sign for it but against my better judgment, I did.

It turned out to be a letter from the Board of Adjustment of Maharishiville was holding a special session about a neighbor who was violating a zoning law banning the building of two unattached dwellings on a lot zoned for only one dwelling. After several weeks of forgetting about it and the time of the meeting rapidly approaching, I called during my lunch break to the town code enforcement officer, husband of a coworker, and asked for the scoop. My neighbor had evidently been illegally renting her garage for eight years and due to complaints by another neighbor, it had come to the attention of the Board of Adjustment. The meeting that night would decide whether a variance to the zoning law would be given to the lady.

Now let me clarify a point here. Although I am a neighbor as far as the law is concerned, i.e. my property is within 200 feet of her property line, my property does not border hers. In fact, I am a good 160 feet away from her property at the closest point of my property. This neighbor lives at the end of a street that dead ends and there is actually two blocks between me and the street she lives on. I didn't know her or the neighbors that brought the complaint. In fact, I can only just barely see her house through the trees in the winter when the leaves were off.

When the meeting started, it was just myself and one other lady who introduced herself as a representative of the neighbors who made the complaints and she stated that she wasn't there to debate anything, only to relay any questions the board might have to the neighbors who couldn't make the meeting. But within minutes, the lady with the property in violation of the ordinance came waltzing in and immediately I knew she was a Maharishi by her dress and demeanor. I knew that this meeting was going to be an interesting one. Ten minutes after her, another man came in whom Miss Guru identified as her janitor for hire who obviously had just got off the boat from deep in the outback of Australia by the sound of his voice. The meeting kicked off.

Miss Guru stated that she had bought the property after the previous garage had burnt down and decided to build a new one. She went to city hall and filled out a permit for a two-stall garage with a "loft" which was granted. I emphasis the word loft because in my eyes and the eyes of the city, that means another floor for perhaps a workshop or a studio or yoga room or something other than an apartment. She told the board that she had specifically mentioned the word apartment though she wrote loft in the space provided. The board told her that had she written apartment and meant apartment, the permit would never have been granted. Further more, the board said that the very guy who gave her the permit also sent her a letter a year later stating that she had used her permit unlawfully and she was in violation of the town ordinance.

Miss Guru tried to counter saying that the permit hadn't been seen by that guy but the board pointed out his signature was right below hers on the permit and dated the same day. She then went on to say that the town ordinance had been looser back then only to have the board say it has been unchanged on the books since 1986 a full dozen years before she bought the property. She then said that she had never received the letter because she had been sick the entire year and do to insurance had been overseas for treatment so she was guilty of not knowing about the letter. Though she had to sign for it, the board told her that her illness was still not an excuse.

The board started reviewing the case a bit more and I learned some interesting information. Evidently their had been several complaints over the years. One renter had opened an acupuncture shop in the garage and due to the limited parking, customers had been blocking the alley preventing other neighbors from getting to or leaving their homes. Other renters had held noisy parties drawing complaint. The most recent complaint that thus brought about this meeting was that the garage with an apartment on top had its sewage plumbed into the house sewage which then plumbed into the neighbors sewage before going into the city sewage. Evidently a blockage had occurred flooding the neighbor’s property or house, I never learned which. Mr. Crocodile Dundee the janitor stated that he met with Roto Rooter and they said that nothing Miss Guru had done had caused the flooding problems but of course they had no documentation to prove it.

Miss Guru finally sensed that the tide was going the other way and started stating that she had a very large lot that could accommodate three or four cars at the house and at the garage. But several board members said they had driven out there before the meeting and saw only one space in front of the garage before blocking of the alley and that you had to go through that space to reach the spaces by the house that might hold two cars close together. She then stated that other houses across town rented out garage lofts and that the convalescent home across the street held multiple buildings. The board of course pointed out that the other houses could be zoned differently not to mention that just because someone else is doing something illegally doesn't make it right for all. As for the convalescent home, it was actually a hospital and had been there well before 1986 and thus does not count not to mention it was four blocks away and not across the street as she had stated. She replied that it was only a three-minute walk and that several people made it daily as to make the case that it was across the street. She stated that if the variance wasn't granted that the building was going to go vacant and just rot to the ground. Finally she stated that she had a large lot and that neither building was infringing upon the neighbors, which the board pointed out, was not the case since they had in their hands several complaints from the neighbors.

The board went on to ask her if she had the property inspected and she asked them for what reason. Answering a question with a question is always a sign that you either don't know the answer or don't want to say it. The board told her that every rental property in the city limits had to be registered and inspected once every four years. I could tell this was a loaded question but she pounced and said she had her buildings inspected. At that point one of the board members informer her that he was the inspector and had never been out to her property nor was it registered in their records. She said well someone drove by it and she had thought it was the inspector.

I was pretty confident at this point that the variance was going to be denied but a board member, also one of the cult on the north side of town, started saying that he was leaning towards granting the variance because it was clear to him that she had made an honest mistake. I was incredulous at this since it had been clearly obvious that she had been trying to mislead the board the entire meeting so far only to be repeatedly caught and forced to backtrack. So when they asked if there was any discussion from the room and all looked at me, the sole non-involved party in attendance, I decided to say what was on my mind.

I told the board that I didn't know Miss Guru or her neighbors, didn't live on the same street and wasn't affected by all the actions that caused the complaints. I was however concerned with the precedent they would be setting if they allowed the variance since that left any of my neighbors able to 'accidentally' build an apartment on their property claiming ignorance to the law and if that were to occur, I would have a problem with that since I bought my house in that area specifically for it being a quiet single dwelling zoned area. (I passed up on a property before hand simply because it was by an apartment building and behind a senior citizen center.) With that I sat down and ignored the stares from Miss Guru and Crocodile Dundee.

The board voted and denied her request for a variance. This obviously didn't please Miss Guru who then said she was now forced to sell the property to a family who would most likely have lots of children since it wasn't illegal and they would soon have six cars sitting out front. She turned to look at me and the lady representing the neighbors and said she hoped we were happy about that. I just smiled back at her. She ranted for a while about the unfairness of it all and at which point myself and the other lady grew tired of it and quietly slipped out the door.

I have lived around the meditators/cult/gurus here in town most of my life. I have several among them who I consider good friends. However, it just seems that there is a disproportionate number among them who are actually like Miss Guru in this blog. They are constantly trying to stretch truths to get their way and occasionally it works. The built a big huge civic center in our town with the promise that it would be paid for and run entirely with private money and would bring lots of money to our poor rural county. After they got the go ahead and got to the point of no return, they then weaseled the city into giving them a lot of money to complete the construction saying that it would pay them back rich dividends when built. It has been open a year and still isn't solvent and is at the verge of bankruptcy. They are now asking that the city and county buy the building and run it from now on so the fight is on, full of stretched truths and flat out lies just like Miss Guru. Sadly, they are a stereotypical cult.


Eutychus2 said...

I'm glad you took interest and showed up; I guess what bugs me is why the neighbors didn't and sent a representative. I realize there may be some valid reasonings but for each neighbor to not show up? Again, glad you took enough care to show.

sage said...

Blogger ate my comment again!

I'd written that I've been to too many zoning meetings over the past few years and if the consequences of the actions weren't so serious, they'd be down right funny.

Ed said...

Eutychus2 - I got the sense that there had been years of built up hatred between the two groups and that this incident was just the tip of the iceberg.

Ed said...

Sage - I have found the same thing. Most of the time, the general public in my town spend microphone time on irrelevant matters to the issue at hand. The request of Walmart to build a supercenter here in my town being a classic example. Though I despise Walmart, most of the crowd attacked Walmart for what it would do for area businesses. But the facts were all Walmart was requesting from the city was a variance from the tree ordinance stating that every parking space had to be within 30 feet of a small tree or 50 feet from a big tree. It felt that the board and myself were the only people in the room who realized Walmart could build a supercenter if they wanted and there was no way they could be stopped. All we could do was force them to plant trees a little closer together.

Beau said...

Good for you speaking up, and stating a rational consequences-based opinion. Wonder what would have happened if you had just sat there...

R. Sherman said...

[T]he lady with the property in violation of the ordinance came waltzing in and immediately I knew she was a Maharishi by her dress and demeanor.

I thought that sect practiced flying around, an activity that sort of puts the kabosh on any skeet shooting, I should think.

BTW, you're right about precedent. I've been involved in a lot of planning and zoning cases and that's always a problem. There is always somebody who will show up and say, "but you let so-and-so do it." Thus, it's better just to say "no."


Vince said...

What drew them to your town in the first place.

Ed said...

Beau - I suspect the same thing. The members of the board appeared to have their minds made up but after hearing the one in favor of it, I decided to speak up rather than regret not having done so after it was too late.

R. Sherman - It is more of a hopping than a flying but when walking many display a self-righteous air when walking that is easy to pick out. Precedent really scares me and quickly leads to the slippery slope saying.

Vince - It is rumored that they considered my town as the center of the Universe but in reality, I think the cults leader Maharishi Maheesh Yogi was looking to start a University devoted to Transcendental Meditation and we happened to be a town where the local college went belly up and was for sell at that time in the early 70's.

TC said...

She should have just owned up to what she wanted. The lies would have pissed me off enough to say something.