I have scanned the Facebook pages, websites, and other communications from the two District 1 candidates: Jami Tucker and Andrea Verhoff. And oddly, neither candidate mentions zoning variances, never mind states a position on variances. It seems that variance is a dirty word on the campaign trail . . . danger lurks in even the mention of the word. However, I would contend that variance is the most important word of the campaign. Why? Because the most contentious land-use issues in Milton invariably involve the granting of variances . . . often, heaps of variances. And the reality is that with enough variances, a developer can get away with building nearly anything in Milton—no matter how smelly, unsightly, or loud. Liberal granting of variances means that citizens have no reasonable certainty about what gets located near their properties, including development that would seriously diminish enjoyment of their property and/or lower their property’s value. That is wrong! In our wildest nightmares, none of us living near Birmingham Crossroads could have reasonably contemplated approval of a music venue (in the most rural part of Milton) that pumps out loud music 30+ Saturday nights per year. And worse, slews of variances are granted on a regular basis in Milton, regardless of the composition of council. In fact, over the past 4 years, the granting of variances has increased dramatically . . . for example, 28 variances were granted at Birmingham Crossroads alone in the span of less than a year (2018).
Of course, securing valuable variances often means befriending enough council members and/or paying them off (legally) by buying the product/services of their businesses, etc. And Miltonites should not kid themselves that this is not happening. It is happening and unfortunately it is all legal.
Furthermore, both of the long-feuding factions in Milton—the Lusk-Kunz faction and Moore-Bentley faction—are united by their stance on variances. Both factions conveniently assert that “citizens don’t understand or care about variances.” Both factions cynically ignore the perspectives of nearby residents that will be most impacted by the variances. Both factions self-servingly assert that their projects are “special” and “good for the community” and therefore justify granting major exceptions to Milton’s variance ordinances. The sad truth is what differentiates the long-battling factions in Milton is not their views on policy or governance but ONLY their representation of different Special Interests. What we rather need in Milton are representatives that uphold the rule of law and that represent citizens (not Special Interests or personal interests). We need candidates that are not afraid to talk about variances and to take a strong stance against the liberal granting of variances . . . and then follow through on their campaign stances when they sit on Council.
And what might constitute a strong stance on variances? I would like to hear both candidates pledge:
- I will only grant variances for minor zoning deviations where hardship is clearly proven. This accords with historical variance practice and with Milton’s strict variance law.
- In very rare cases when granting variances for major zoning deviations might be prudent, I will only vote for major variances if there is overwhelmingly (80+%) support from nearby residents most impacted by the variances.
- I will never allow use permits to be re-purposed by variances to allow uses not explicitly listed in Milton’s laws.
Wow! Wouldn’t it be great to hear a politician actually commit to upholding the law (that BTW they swear to uphold) and to protect the property rights and property values of residents? Wouldn’t it be great to have Council members that don’t cravenly cave and cater to the Special Interests (and personal interests) and instead make duty to the community their first and only priority?
Unfortunately, what citizens so far have heard from the District 1 candidates are mostly platitudes about land use meant to offend no one, but also guaranteed not to impress or inspire anyone. These are what I call “pro-puppy” stances on issues . . . pledges that all candidates make and about which no one disagrees . . . pledges to uphold the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Kumbayah! Or to preserve what makes Milton “special.” Kumbayah! Or to preserve greenspace. Kumbayah! These sorts of cotton-candy promises—sugary sweet and mostly air—do nothing to advance the land-use discussion or to address the important issues facing Milton—most especially the wanton granting of variances to Special Interests. These District 1 candidates’ promises are appeals to populism rather than practical policy prescriptions. Citizens deserve better.
So my message to candidates Tucker and Verhoff is don’t bob and weave on the issue of variances. Rather speak loudly and clearly about variances. Let there be no doubt that you stand with citizens (and against Special Interests) and for the rule of law. Let your views on variances ring out across the Milton you have pledged to preserve. Keeping Milton “special” means being a Grinch and a Scrooge when it comes to gifting variances.
Advocating For Honesty and Clarity About Variances,
Note: It has come to my attention that some citizens believe I am behind anonymous websites and posts about the District 1 candidates. I want to be very clear. My ONLY platform for my views has been (and is) this blog. I do not run or otherwise direct any other websites, Twitter accounts, or other platforms. I do not anonymously post my views anywhere. Furthermore, my standards for this blog are high. I am strictly non-partisan, as I do not believe partisanship translates well at the local level; my readers span the ideological political spectrum. I do not address state or national issues. I do not address personal issues and steer well clear of criticisms that might be perceived as personal attacks. (However, I make no apologies for being harsh and direct in my criticism.) I only ever mention politicians by name; private citizens, even those who are politically active, are off-limits. My focus is primarily on process and principles, but also on policy. However, the comportment of politicians in the conduct of their office or campaigns is also fair game. My focus is on issues where there is broad consensus in the community—i.e., eliminating the influence of Special Interests, particularly favors for developers. Above all else, my goals are good governance in Milton and increasing citizen engagement/education. I welcome the frequent feedback and input I receive from readers—whether they agree with me or not.
I do not intend to endorse a candidate in the District 1 race at this blog. Rather my intent is to provide my perspectives, backed by facts, to assist voters in drawing their own conclusions about which candidate will best serve the citizens of Milton. Another purpose of the blog is to press the candidates to address the most serious issues in Milton and to hopefully elevate the political discussion. The community benefits from honest and ferocious debate among friends about policy, principles, and process. (Conversely, the community suffers when that debate degenerates—often on social media platforms—into vicious personal attacks and character assassination.)