29 September 2005

The Neighborhood Association.

Denver has these creatures called neighborhood associations. Most neighborhoods in the city have one. Unlike homeowner's associations in the suburbs (also usually a bad thing, in my opinion), they cannot compel anyone to pay dues and have a voluntary membership. Basically, the only privilege that they receive that differs from any other non-profit organization is that they receive notice of pending activity in the neighborhood from the city planning department, and due to their regular participation in the community input process of various city agencies tend to develop some respect with the staffs there.

My local neighborhood association is the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association. I am not a member. I don't pay dues. In point of fact, I can't think of a single occasion where I have ever agreed with a stance it has taken with the city, although I'm sure that there have been one or two. The WWPNA is fundamentally a conservative organization, not in the sense of Republican Party conservativism, but in the sense of being opposed to just about any change in the neighborhood.

They made a tremendous fuss over a neighborhood coffee shop that moved in to replace some other decepit business in an existing building, and wanted to use a patio to serve customers. They are seeking historic district status for the neighborhood, although it is such an amalgam of different architectural styles over such a broad span of time (including the present), that I'd be hard pressed to characterize its historic character. They are anti-pop top. They are anti-scrape. And, they absolutely abhor the notion that the neighborhood might get any more liquor licenses (hyperbole, yes, but not far from the truth). They are terrified that our neighborhood might end up looking like the Cherry Creek neighborhood -- where hundreds of acres as somewhat nasty, small postwar single family homes were scraped, lot by lot, to replace them with high end townhouses and duplexes. They are the sort of people who are convinced that they have a legitimate interest in meddling in their neighbors' business because it might affect their property values.

My attitude towards the issues they address is quite different. I see developments like pop tops (i.e. added another floor to an existing home) and scrapes (i.e. removing an existing building to replace it with another) as a natural part of the life of a growing city. I had a scrape take place immediately next door to me. The construction was noisy. There was a boundary dispute that had to be resolved. It has reduced the access to light I have in my own windows. But, fundamentally, I don't have a problem with that. The duplex that was put there has allowed to families to live in large residences, where one family could live in a smallish residence before the scrape. It took place on property that didn't belong to me. This is where we should be putting more people, in neighborhoods that have seen a decline in school aged children, in neighborhoods that already have infrastructure in place to support residents, in neighborhoods close to workplaces with good access to clean, safe bus lines. It is better to have infill development in my urban neighborhood, than to cause sprawl to extend even further into the area surrounding the city. If some of the change can include commercial uses or multi-family uses, so much the better. Yes, businesses should provide their own parking where most of their customers and employees are likely to come by car, and yes, buildings should be built in accordance with sound building codes. But, ultimately, I think that zoning regulations (except to the extent that they directly address and are narrowly tailored to specific externalities caused by a property) are a bad idea. I also don't fear having a few more establishments that serve alcohol in the neighborhood. I fear the mediocracy that comes from giving people who minimal interests in a project a potential veto over it and stifles bold ideas, far more than I fear the risk that an occasional bold idea, taken by someone who bears the financial risk involved in implementing that idea, might go bust.

If I thought I could make a difference in the WWPNA, I might show up to meetings, run for an office on its board, and try to change it from within. But, realistically, given the self-perpetuating reputation it has taken on for itself, it would take a large movement of people working together to achieve that, and I don't have the inclination to make that kind of effort, and don't want to help an organization that works against polices that I favor in the meantime. So, instead, I am not a member, and would be happy if the organization simply folded. But, I simply make public comment from time to time on isolated issues where I feel I can make a difference and I care. Given the opportunity, however, I'd like to see the zoning codes changed to reduce the influence that groups like the WWPNA have in the infill, renovation and development process.

10 comments:

Julie O. said...

It's kind of sad when things change, but it's scary when they don't. Everything changes, and that's how it should be. People who can't deal with that are eventually going to be sorely disappointed in life, anyway.

Paulo said...

I don't understad what she ^ said.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Details on the Perk and Pub issue.

Dale said...

Nowadays, there are at least a few members of WWPNA that feel just as you do. However, city council seems resigned to the fact that some form of downzoning that prohibits large duplexes will happen.

This would be a dirty shame close to the new light rail station, because in fact we need HIGHER density near the TOD (Transit Oriented Development)

Anyway, with a little more publicity about the issues and WWPNA's persistent nimbyism, some more folks like yourself might get off the sidelines and make a difference.

Urbanity said...

Andrew, I couldn't agree with you more. I also am a West Washington Park resident and your blog was sent to me saying that your thoughts echoed mine. I have never blogged before but this prompted me to sign up...I will continue to fight for a diverse and interesting neighborhood, where Urbanity is embraced and not feared.

Anonymous said...

Things are really getting nasty in the hood, check out a nimbygal's letter to the editor of the Wash Park Profile
http://www.washingtonparkprofile.com/letters_editor/index.html

Anonymous said...

What people in Wash Park don't realize is that the WWPNA has now tried to control things outside of their boundaries. They are bleeding into WUCA territory in order to conspire with neighbors of a property that is for sale to stop everything in its tracks by using city services against other Denver citizens.

They are also using contacts with employees within the city to fulfill their own selfish interests. Property rights are going to be a thing of the past if someone doesn't put these people in their place.

There are a lot of crooked things going on between some neighborhood associations and the City. We just need to find the exact connections to combat it. Those who run the WWPNA are also making money off of this blatant attack on the poor people in WUCA territory by using their own personal businesses and getting paid for their services. Conflict of interest? Some City Council member (who used to run the WWPNA) has also been connected with this infringment of property rights. At what point do the members of the community and the City of Denver actually begin to defend the tax paying public who are victimized by abuses of power?

The folks who are being victimized are being forced to pay for legal fees because of this attack putting them in further debt. The whole idea for selling the property in the first place was to get out of debt and pay off the deceased relative's bills. But the neighbors have seen fit to publicly attack and abuse city services (and the city lets them do it) in order to stop time in it's place.

The previous poster was right when they said these people are going to have a rude awakening. Life does keep going and change does happen. I say, move somewhere else if you can't handle what is going on in your neighborhood.

People shouldn't be allowed to just take away someone's property rights for their own personal gain.

People really need to keep an eye on their neighborhood associations and be aware of what's going on. We need to hold those who run the associations accountable for their actions.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above poster. Has anyone heard about the current fight over the DeBoer Historic District? What a mess that is. And all the neighbors (and a few beyond) on the adjacent Pinon Court are complicit in creating HUGE financial hardships on the poor family that was simply trying to sell their inherited property and move on with their lives after a relative passed away. It is hard enough to sell the house you and your mother grew up in, but the neighbors in the area have created a nightmare for these poor people who should be able to sell their property as they see fit. The property had a contract. The neighbors chased away the buyer. The property is still for sale, but is in limbo as the owners wait for the city to make a decision on a horribly stilted and deceptive historical district designation application. How about doing what is RIGHT here and letting people have their property rights instead of infringing upon those rights? What these nasty 'neighbors' have done is WRONG and not 'neighborly' in any sense of the word. They have (admittedly) used the city's Landmark Preservation Commission to help them stop development. This is WRONG.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting. Take a look at this link:

http://www.alumbo.com/article/22716-Abuse-of-Denver-Historic-Landmark-Certification.html

Interesting to see what the DeBoer family's perspective is. I feel sorry for them! Maybe there is a way we can help! Can we write letters of support? Does anyone know the address to the Landmark Preservation Commission?

Anonymous said...

http://www.mapbuilder.net/users/roflambif

Some maps made at approx. same period of time as earlier posts showing WWPNA board, members, deleted members, property information. The number of facts I discovered to be inaccurate is astounding. There is no 5 million dollar home at Hirschfeld Towers or McMeen Elementary, for example. There's even info on supporters of the DeBoers situation.

-Carmichael