Our guest blogger Spencer Kass is a regular attendee at Tampa City Council and other city government meetings and is a real estate broker in West Tampa. He files his latest report:
For the past few months I have watched as neighborhood groups complained to the Tampa City Council about repeat offenders of the cityâs codes and ordinances. The story told to Council often repeats itself: a violation is found, the offender is given a chance to fix it, they do fix it and then they violate the same ordinance a few weeks later. The response from neighborhoods is that the business is just using a legal trick, a technical maneuver that is allowing someone to do something which is clearly not the intent of the law, that there is no honor in the business ownersâ actions.
And they are correct.
Then an unusual situation occurred. Tampa officials on April 8 went before their own Variance Review Board, which has the power to bend development rules if it is in the public interest. The city sought a permit to remove 153 trees, and I objected. The board quickly ruled in favor of the city and I was not able to appeal because of a technical requirement that you must own land within 250 feet of the location in question in order to have standing to complain.
The situation is even more egregious when you discover that the trees are being killed to make way for a place that is supposed to highlight beauty and truth and aesthetics in our community: the new Tampa Museum of Arts on the riverfront in downtown.
When I explained this situation to a friend of mine, he said, âWell, the city did not technically break any laws, did they?â While he was technically correct, his question leads to a more basic one: Just because you can do something wrong does it mean you should?
In this instance, the City and variance board members did not use their standard criteria for review. Board members did not give the city the hassle they usually give to a private landowner. They did not ask their usual questions about the well being of the citizenry. They instead focused on the fact that they wanted a new museum and were not going to let anything stand in its way.
By using criteria that was different for the city than everyone else was wrong, and although the city can get its permit because no one can object, the question remains: Is this the right thing to do? The best way to think of this is: Would the variance board have given the variance if this was an adult book store that wanted to go in and remove trees? Would you want them to grant such a variance.
So the city got away with skirting the law, placed the tree ordinance in permanent jeopardy, and brought into question the entire variance process. And for what? To get something built quickly? As fair-minded individuals, if we believe that there is a formulation to allow for the removal of trees then why not change the code to reflect that position? Why debase ourselves to twisting the law to merely allow us to get away with something?
It is only by holding ourselves to the highest standards that we can expect others to do the same. We certainly cannot expect individuals to act in a more honorable fashion then our own elected city officials. The do-as-I say-not-as-I-do mentality of days gone by is past. I hope a reasonable dialog with all residents emerges as a result of this situation, one in which we can openly discuss the priorities in our community and creating answers so we can finally fix it now.