An annoyed neighborhood strikes back

By Mike Lawler

An ongoing saga of a small development gone bad is currently playing out on the 2700 block of Frances Street, much to the annoyance of neighbors on this quiet street. A neighbor behind the proposed development called to fill me in on the details, so I made plans to meet her at the empty lot on Frances.

I arrived early to nose around the unfenced lot a little. The dominant feature of this obviously once landscaped, but now weed-choked yard were several large dirt piles that had been dumped there recently. Behind that was a big stack of discarded tile and grout, plus old doors, lengths of lumber, and a stack of wood from a cut down tree. In one corner an abandoned swimming pool was partially filled with green scummy water. The fence around it, meant to keep kids from falling in, was down, as was the fence into the neighbor’s yards behind. I stumbled through knee-high weeds and tripped in half-dug trenches. I found more trash, discarded construction rubble, and several rusty 5-gallon cans of gasoline. In other words, it’s a mess.

The neighbor arrived and told me that in 2007 a charming 1920’s stone house, probably the oldest in the neighborhood was torn down in one of those weekend “oops, I forgot to get a permit” demolitions. Several neighbors at that point were miffed, and took their complaints to the County. The developer was slapped on the wrist, issued a demo permit after the fact, and given the green light to proceed with his plans to build two houses.  The relations between the developer and the neighborhood continued in a downward spiral, with lots of complaints going to the County for various violations, and with no response back. The developer then sold his two lots to two different parties, one of who is splitting the lot yet again, making now three new houses being squeezed onto what was once a single lot on a very small and quiet street.  Dirt piles and construction rubble appeared further infuriating the frustrated neighbors, so they called the new developer for a meeting. He was polite, but certainly wasn’t budging. He had a right to build two new 2500 square foot homes on his lot, and there was nothing the neighbors could do about it.

But not so fast! To maximize his square footage he needed to remove two oak trees, which required a public hearing, and this was the sticking point where the neighbors gained their power. They have organized to oppose the oak permit and are on the move. They’ve sent a petition through the neighborhood getting 44 neighbors to sign on in opposition. They’ve made enough noise to attract the attention of the CV Town Council, Supervisor Antonovich’s office, and local news. They’re finished with being ignored, and they’ve drawn a line in the sand, a line that apparently has been noticed. At the last public hearing in December, which was yet again delayed by a snafu, the hearing officer indicated that she was favoring a denial of the tree permit. January 5th is the next hearing and we’ll see who blinks first.

But is this really about the oak trees? I think they’re a symptom of larger problems of our neighborhoods getting tighter with infill, and the erosion of our small-town atmosphere. According to the neighbor I talked to, this is also about unresponsive government, who isn’t taking a role in protecting the quality of our neighborhoods, of which oak tree protection is but one aspect.

We all moved to CV for its quiet and uncrowded neighborhoods, and it’s going to take a lot of discussion and compromise to preserve that, without having battles like we’re seeing on Frances. Are these neighbors saying not to build on the lot on Frances? Quite the opposite. They want something built, specifically the two houses that were originally planned. But they want a little respect and consideration too. And it sounds to me like they’re ready to fight for it.