Believe It When You See It
The Alibi recently reported ("Crossing Over," July 14-20) that Nob Hill area residents and merchants have been calling for pedestrian-friendly infrastructure along Central between Girard and Washington since 1988, but to no effect. Now, City Councilor Martin Heinrich has an estimated $500,000 set aside for improvements, some he recently acquired through city budget negotiations and some he inherited from the last councilor in his district, Hess Yntema. Heinrich said the money is allocated toward intersection redevelopment on Central at Morningside and Wellesley, including two new stoplights and two pedestrian flashers (such as those found on Central in the University area). Heinrich said all that's needed to move forward with the projects is the go-ahead from the mayor, but he's skeptical it will ever happen.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Heinrich said, adding that he's seen no indication that the city plans to start the projects. "There's nothing holding them back; they've just been sitting on this money."
Still, Chief Administrative Officer Ed Adams said a preliminary plan is in motion based on recommendations by Prof. Steven Wheeler of UNM's School of Planning and Architecture.
Wheeler's recommendations, which have been regarded by Nob Hill merchants and city officials as desirable, now are being used as a springboard for improvements in the area. His recommendations mainly include adding pedestrian lighting, crosswalks, stoplights, landscaping and bulb-outs (extensions of the curb and sidewalk space into the street).
The city's plan is separate from the dormant projects Heinrich wants completed and doesn't tap into any of the funding Heinrich allocated for the area.
Amy Henne, president of the Nob Hill Merchants' Association, who has been working with Adams on the project, would still like to see something happen with the funds allocated for stoplights and intersections by Councilor Heinrich, but for now she is content that the city plans to implement phase I of Nob Hill's transformation into a pedestrian zone soon ... supposedly.
The Ballad of Towne Park Plays On
Scott Varner formed the Towne Park Neighborhood Association in hopes of eliciting change. What he hoped to change, specifically, was the attitude and policies of the Towne Park Homeowners' Association. You may remember some examples of the type of self-governing the homeowners' association practiced from an article in the Alibi ("Agro Meets Urban Bliss," May 5-11), such as fining people up to $160 for having weeds in their yard or ticketing residents for parking their car too close to the curb.
Varner became an activist in an effort to change what he called the "gestapo-like behavior" of the homeowners' association's board of directors, and began organizing group meetings and distributing fliers (for which he was reprimanded by said board). Despite Varner's efforts, he says the situation has only gotten worse.
After the Alibi article was printed, three board members resigned in addition to property manager Evelyn Jensen, who was the second property manager to resign in the last year. Another board member was voted off after it was discovered that he "shared the same agenda with Varner," according to Rip Harwood, president of the homeowners' association, although Harwood was unable to provide any examples of the kind of "agenda" that merited the member's dismissal from the board.
Harwood, who has been on the board for the last two years, said he's sick of Varner's antics and constant complaints. Claiming that Varner and his partner, Eloise Colocho, are verbally abusive to Towne Park's main office staff, Harwood banned the two from making any contact with the board or office that isn't in written form. Still, Varner said such accusations are preposterous and believes the real reason he and Colocho were banned is because they were asking questions about the association's finances.
Varner is also upset because he was recently prohibited from distributing neighborhood association newsletters within the community. Of the 485 homes, Varner says more than 100 are members of the neighborhood association.
Harwood considers the distribution of newsletters as solicitation, which violates Towne Park covenants. He threatened to fine Varner up to $120 per newsletter, which means that if Varner distributed letters to all 485 residences in the community, he could be charged over $58,000. However, Varner said that, although there is a covenant that prohibits solicitation within the community, he does not believe it is intended to include distribution of community-related materials.
"This breaches into the First Amendment; people should have the legal right to distribute an opinion that differs from that of a dictatorship," he said.
Harwood said Varner is welcome to send newsletters through the mail if he wants to pay for postage.
Now attorney, and former District 6 city councilor, Hess Yntema represents Varner along with two other community residents. Yntema is helping them to gain access to Towne Park records, which should be available to all Towne Park homeowners.
Harwood said he has no problem showing the records to the two other residents, but said he cannot show them to Varner, as he is technically not a homeowner (his partner owns their house). Varner is working with Yntema to get joint status as a homeowner with his partner.
Varner and the other residents are suspicious that Towne Park's financial records aren't being adequately kept, said Yntema added that to his knowledge there was no balance sheet for 2004 prepared, and still no operating budget for 2005.
"We're hoping to find that the records are kept scrupulously and that all the money is accounted for," said Yntema. "[But] it's hard to understand why they're fining so many people."
Harwood said there is a budget for this year and that all financial matters are in order.
In the meantime, Varner said that dissatisfaction among residents is growing and that every week more people join the neighborhood association. "Every day people are harassed," he said. "That needs to change."
Gaslighted in EDO
The verb to gaslight is a perfect example of how pop culture can influence the American lexicon. It means "to manipulate psychologically" and spawns from the 1940 film Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton, where the man of the house uses tricks, like dimming the lights, to drive his wife insane.
For residents of East Downtown, the continued presence of the Gaslite Motel has become a symbol of prolonged urban decay that is driving some residents, metaphorically speaking, nuts. On June 2, the Alibi reported (“Appetite for Destruction,” June 2-8) that the Safe City Strike Force, directed by Deputy City Attorney Pete Dinelli, had reached an agreement with the property owner to tear the motel down. The tentative timeline was 30 days, and local residents were more than a little pleased by the news. But, 60 days later, the Gaslite is still there.
Marc Ouellette, who had been renting a home near Central and Walter where the Gaslite sits encircled with razor wire, said a rash of burglaries accompanied by the inexorable buzz of a black police helicopter in the area forced him to move last month. He said the Gaslite continues to provide cover for illegal activity, including drug dealing and prostitution.
Karla Thornton, an area homeowner, said the number of burglaries this summer has been "outrageous," but an even greater concern is a squatters' fire igniting and threatening nearby homes if the motel isn't professionally demolished. That concern, she said, has been elevated now that residents have learned the cause for the delay.
"(The property owner) gave us consent to demolish, but it turns out the roof is ’hot' for asbestos," said Dinelli, adding that the original estimate for the demolition more than doubled to $100,000 once the asbestos removal cost was factored in.
"The bill will put a big dent in our money to do teardowns," Dinelli said. "The owner will reimburse the city, and I'm very optimistic we are going forward. However, it's going to take a little more time to identify funding availability."
In the same article, the Alibi also reported that The Daily Grind restaurant was slated to open across the street from the Gaslite. However, Kay Adams, president of the Huning Highland Neighborhood Association said the owners of The Daily Grind are no longer interested in leasing the newly remodeled building.
David Blanc, the representative for the Gaslite owners, did not return Alibi phone calls last week.
Call 346-0660 ext. 255 with news tips. E-mail your guest editorial or letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.