Page Two

Hyde Park Baptist Church expansion update.

Page Two

A deal is a deal. That's a truism that's been invoked a lot during the contentious debate over the Hyde Park Baptist Church expansion. The only thing is, there's been some confusion over just who has what deals with whom, and since the whole thing dates back at least a decade, people's eyes tend to glaze over when you get into the details.

But it's really quite simple:

Ten years ago, after much acrimony, the HPBC and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association reached agreement on a Conceptual Plan to govern the church's development in the area. It was a controversial plan, and created much animosity within the NA, but for better or worse, it passed a vote of the neighbors, a version of it was signed as a contract between HPNA and HPBC, and it was sent to the city to be codified as a zoning ordinance (the Hyde Park NCCD).

But here's the ugly twist: Somewhere in the bowels of the Planning Dept., strange changes were wrought, and the final document -- passed as an emergency with no citizen review, and never published anywhere -- contained myriad variances from the compatibility standards which prevailed, then and now, for every other project in the city. The NCCD then lay dormant for the rest of the decade.

Two months ago, Erica Barnett wrote a cover story on the massive Hyde Park Baptist Church expansion, and I wrote a "Page Two" column laying out the argument above, and urging the city council to scrap the NCCD, and bring the development into compliance with compatibility standards: to make the zoning match the conceptual plan upon which it was supposed to be based. That, after all, was the city's original charge -- the deal they made with both the church and the neighborhood.

Since then, there have been a number of developments:

  • The council declared a six-week moratorium on any development activity, and directed the church and neighbors to meet and try to come up with a compromise plan.

  • Over half of that time passed while neighborhood representatives waited for HPBC to respond to a list of suggested meeting dates. By the time church rep Richard Suttle agreed to a meeting, less than two weeks were left in the "negotiation period."

  • Two desultory meetings revealed that, no, HPBC officials did not want to discuss any changes in their building plans, nor did they care to explain either their need for so much parking, or their desire to have all traffic enter and exit only onto one small residential street.

  • Suttle then cancelled a third meeting planned for this past Sunday, and any future ones, as well.

    And so the six-week moratorium ends this Friday, Jan. 28, and council will take up the issue the day before. And what will they do this time? Betting is -- get this -- they'll order another, longer moratorium, and send the parties back to do further "negotiation." The neighborhood reps won't gripe about this outcome -- it's probably the best they can do with Mayor Watson out of town for the week -- but this is a feeble delaying tactic, at best.

    It's clear to just about everyone that this project is grossly incompatible with the neighborhood, and that there's no way it should be allowed to go forward as it stands. It is perhaps admirable that the council wants to achieve a negotiated compromise. But clearly, the church isn't going to make any concessions as long as their NCCD is in place. Indeed, they don't have to.

    Moreover, it's not the neighbors' job to strike a compromise with the church. (Nor, for that matter, should the church have to answer to an informal group of private citizens with divergent agendas.) That the HPNA and Alliance to Save Hyde Park have gotten this far, and given the city so much to work with, is a tribute to their dedication and hard work, but this is not the way the system is supposed to work. The city has perfectly good development standards in place for cases like this. If council truly intends that this development be built under them, rather than under the NCCD's sweeping exemptions, they're going to have to say so, forcefully and officially.

    And that's what they should do. Because the city didn't have a deal with HPBC to facilitate their development; they had a deal with both HPBC and HPNA to take an agreed-upon plan, and translate it into a zoning ordinance. They didn't do that 10 years ago, but they ought to do it now. After all, a deal is a deal.

    Full Disclosure Dept.: I live in Hyde Park, and my wife, Susan Moffat, has been active in the fight against the HPBC for some time. But this editorial reflects only my own opinions, and most decidedly not those of any neighborhood reps. Also, I have no personal stake in this dispute -- we don’t even live near the church -- and if this development were in your neighborhood instead of mine, I’d still hate it. end story

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