Tension at APHZAB

Immediately after the normal opening routine, the regular April Historic Advisory Board meeting took a dramatic turn. Board Chair Martha McClements read into the record a written complaint sent to city government by Brian Kassel regarding John Burr. He claimed that John was biased against him because of some unexplained animosity. She further read her reaction to the complaint stating that she had great respect for John’s knowledge and integrity and intended to take no action on the complaint. John stated that he would not vote on Brian’s project but would participate in discussions as he deemed appropriate. There was further discussion from the board which supported the Chair’s decision. Remarks by Brian did nothing to clarify the situation but his perception may have been influenced by John’s attempts to point out some issues which may cause problems for the project if not addressed until a later date.

I have been observing the board for over two years now, rarely missing a meeting. Since application of historic preservation standards requires some subjective judgement, one might disagree with any particular board decision. My observation, however, is that board members take their responsibilities seriously and are conscientious in applying the standards as they interpret them. They want property owners to be able to use their properties as desired but historic preservation is always the first priority.

Martha and John gave a brief update on the upcoming zoning hearing regarding the Baffert project at 6th Avenue and 18th Street. You may recall that the hearing had to be rescheduled because of mistakes in the notice of meeting when first scheduled. The meeting has been rescheduled to May 3rd but may not happen even then. There were so many mistakes and missing or incorrect information that it may take more time to research the issue properly. City staff has really done a poor job on this process and has strained its credibility with the neighborhood. Because of his extensive understanding of zoning matters, it was John who detected the errors and brought them to the attention of city staff.

Some in the community feel this poor handling of the hearing is an attempt to discourage neighbors from participating. I certainly hope that is not the case. More likely is that because the rezoning is seen by staff as a done deal, preparation for the hearing was not given appropriate attention. There is no question that economic pressures from developers and the expressed priorities of Mayor and Council suggest that the property will be developed largely as planned with only the details to be worked out. If you are not happy with this situation, keep watching for details of the hearing, whenever it may finally be held.

There was one major review to be considered, a new multiple unit residential construction at 726 S Bean Avenue of which Brian Kassel is the property owner. After extensive discussion of various aspects of the project, the discussion focused on application of historic standards to the project. A motion was made and adopted to recommend against approval of the project as presented to the board. The first of two main issues was total structure height. A new structure cannot be taller than the tallest historic structure within a legally defined development zone and the proposal does not comply. The development zone can be expanded to take in nearby taller structures but no application has been made to do so. The second concern is about massing and that too is related to height. Massing is the visual impact of a structure because of size and shape. Because the proposed buildings would be two story and flat roofed with parapets, it would loom over surrounding historic properties.

The three remaining action items were about code violations for failing to apply for historic review before making exterior building alterations. The first, a major renovation at 245 S 5th Avenue by Waverly Rentals was quickly resolved as agreement was reached to replace the new inappropriate vinyl and aluminum windows with traditional appearing wood windows. The Waverly Rentals representatives were anxious to understand the historic standards and review process because they plan to do another project in Armory Park soon and they want to do it correctly. I was pleased to see their constructive attitude because that is not always the case. 

The second violation concerned removal of security bars and replacement of windows at 821 S 4th Avenue (Fernando Chiquette, property owner) without historic review. Apologies were offered for the failure and this issue and another project will be brought to the board at its next meeting. 

After completing the action items, discussing of the HistoricTucson.org website, most board members indicated their support for continuing to develop the site. When completed, the site will collect the guidance needed to design an approved project in an Historic Preservation Zone and particularly Armory Park.

In the interest of clarity and disclosure, I want to briefly explain my role in all of this. I am not a member of the APHZAB but I value the important work the board does. Members are all unpaid volunteers who take on a difficult job. To support their efforts I manage the online data repository used during meetings. Using a projector and screen to display documents makes the meetings go more smoothly.

I have also built the Historic Tucson website (above) to support the board by helping prospective historic review applicants to better understand the standards and review process. This site will also serve the other four HPZs, should they desire. I offer the site as a community service. I also manage the website for the Armory Park Neighborhood Association (ArmoryParkTucson.org) for the APNA board.

All APHZAB meetings are open to the public. I attend meetings as a member of the public as you should when possible. Since many of you can’t attend, I report on my view of the meetings here. This AroundArmoryPark.net website is mine for offering comments and news about matters I feel are important to the neighborhood — like APHZAB meetings.

If you want to give me feedback, email ken@kmtaylor.com.

There have been comments on this article

 

5 thoughts on “Tension at APHZAB”

  1. Also, excuse me for getting the identities mixed up between the last commenter and Ms. Martha McClements, who did not communicate with Mr. Kassel in any way after receiving his complaint, but spoke as though she had during the public meeting. This combination of negligence and the not-quite-accurate representation of the board’s competency in the matter is what frustrated me, and seemed to me to put Mr. Kassel in an unexpected and slightly unfair position. Ms. McClements forgot to actually communicate with the author. Everything else as explained makes perfect sense to me legally. However, I don’t think an accurate portrayal of events was reported–neither at the meeting nor in this write-up, so mostly just wanted to point out the additional information.

    Thank you Michael and Ken for sharing your helpful considerations with me.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Stephanie.

    Generally speaking, there is no correspondence with a government organization in Arizona that is private. Open meeting and public record laws make almost all government matters open to the public. In my view, the board chair needed to go on record as to how the board and John Burr would react to the written complaint which was already a part of the public record. By posting my notes, I made the neighborhood more broadly aware of the matter and the difficulty of the APHZAB’s work. That is my mission. There is always room to criticize the style of board members or others at the meeting. All of these matters are appropriate for discussion within the community or on this site.

    Are there other opinions out there?

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  3. I was there. Beginning the meeting by reading out loud what was intended by a resident to be private correspondence, without his awareness, seemed wildly unprofessional to me. I think it is worthwhile to look into the response sent by the board member to this email. It was an odd decision regardless to open the meeting that way, but if there was in fact no personal response by the Chairperson to this private concern then quite frankly I am amazed that this action was considered at all appropriate. I understand that board members take their roles seriously, but a little development in personal relations seems like it would be helpful.
    Dealing with the public will always mean that some residents will be more difficult than others to work with. But in this context, it is you that are the professionals. Scolding residents for statements they make is out of line, in my opinion. There are several board members who delivered their critique politely and constructively. Then there were those who thought it appropriate to avoid answering a privately addressed concern but read it out loud, and those who literally screamed at the resident. In medicine we call this bedside manner. I don’t know what the appropriate term would be here, but I genuinely hope you will consider being accountable for maintaining a respectful environment as part of your roles as well, rather than insisting that residents do so even when you do not.

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    1. I am a current member of the Historic District Advisory Board. I also have some experience, from my time as a Judge in Arizona, with the public’s concern for disinterested decision-making. A “recusal” is a voluntary act of a decision maker to remove him- or her- self from a process where a conflict exists or could exist. A recommendation from a party to an action for recusal may be made noting reasons for replacing the decision-maker but the decision is his/hers. It goes without saying that such a request must be made in an open setting to allow a response by the decision-maker and prevent extortionate behavior or the exercise of undue influence.
      This issue has never, to my knowledge, been raised in this Advisory Board. If such a novel request is to be raised, however, it should be treated as an open and public issue, allowing the Board to determine whether any recusal request should apply to persons sitting in a purely advisory capacity and allowing the subject of the request an opportunity to respond.
      I was unaware at the time of the meeting that the request for recusal had been accompanied with an expectation of confidentiality by its author. To allow it would have been not only a violation of our state’s Open Meeting Law, as pointed out by Mr. Taylor, but present a practical probem for the Board. With whom did the author believe that the Chairperson should share this request? Would the subject, Mr. Burr, be advised and permitted to respond? Was the Chairperson expected to act unilaterally, and remove Mr. Burr from the matter? If the request, whether granted or not, had remained a secret, the Board would be complicit in the opacity and liable to our sponsor the City Council for our actions. I believe that our actions were appropriate. I would suggest, however, that those appearing before the Advisory Board in the future be informed of the relevant law and the Board’s dedication to transparency.

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      1. I think that the issues were this: The neighbor was not treated with any professional decency or basic tact throughout the board meeting, in ways that I will detail from my perspective. And yet there is, for some reason, a public blog -by board members- continuing to sensationalize the meeting and placing all accountability on the citizen while the board paints itself in a rather flattering light. This is not what I experienced. The atmosphere of the meeting seemed to me to be dominated by the three or so board members who were loudest and angriest, and the result was an alarmingly (almost bizarrely) hostile forum where these few board members actually seemed to take pride in not being obligated to act professionally. You can make the same points and decisions, and follow the same procedures, with just an ounce of professionalism, and I know this because a handful of other board members did just that during the times that they were able to actually take the floor and be heard over the others.

        I think the reason that things proceeded in a way that was unnecessarily disorienting for the author of the complaint was because there was no communication with the author directly, at all, even to let him know that his concern had been received, and certainly no information on how it would need to be dealt with in a public forum for the reasons you explained to me. This information should have been communicated to the author at some point–if not before the meeting then after the meeting. If not after the meeting then before (or instead of) writing this story.

        In the meeting, you portrayed that you had indeed done this. You fumbled around looking for your reply to read aloud saying jokingly “I’m sure I wrote something brilliant in response” but you could not find this email, nor could another board member, and later I confirmed with the author that he never actually received any response from you. This may not be a huge deal, but then there was the rest of the meeting, and -then- there was this post.

        A majority of board members remained professional; I was just personally taken aback at how unprofessionally the more vocal and emotional members were to a neighbor. I work in mental health, and I just personally found the apparent pride in not owing a citizen your professionalism to be alarming. I could easily imagine a neighbor with a cognitive or mood disability being literally screamed at for sharing his thought processes, as the neighbor in this meeting was. All in all I left that meeting uncomfortable knowing that there are board members who are in charge of decisions affecting people’s lives in this way who do this role with such visible contempt for a neighbor who was not being aggressive (but was met with aggression). I understand dealing with certain people can be frustrating. This is the nature of working with the public. But do you guys really get to berate people when one of -you- didn’t even fulfill your role in the interaction; in helping things to go more smoothly? I’m not suggesting that you feel like you need to repent for small errors of oversight like this. Rather, don’t berate the people you could be helping just because it’s easier than genuinely helping/communicating with them. Not part of your role to help, or to keep track of the consistency of your feedback to individuals so you can help them to help you? Okay. But then just, you know, remember not to berate. Not to use your platform as a means of putting down citizens who you have impatience for, both in verbal language and in writing. Reporting and record-keeping are indeed important, but there is no need to saturate it with your own subjectivity unless the goal is to ensure that the environment remains domineering.

        Small example I remember from the meeting: Something was stated by the neighbor about the interior of their home. Immediate response from one of the more vocal (overpowering of others, really) members was “OK well we don’t care about that”. Another more thoughtful board member quickly jumped in and said, “Well, the issue is that it is -out of our jurisdiction-“. The latter is not only more professional, but it is much more clear and accurate information to the neighbor. Clear, professional statements over oddly emotionally-fueled, personally directed comments will not only help the people you seem to be so begrudgingly dealing with, but will make your own lives a bit less frustrating for future meetings with the same individuals.

        These are just suggestions from a stranger who went to one meeting. Feel free to discard it all as not applicable to you. But to be clear, I would not be so frustrated were it not for the choice to take zero accountability in this write-up, despite what I witnessed, and despite you accidentally being transparent with everyone *except* the author whose complaint you read aloud. Transparency on all sides but one is not transparency. The breakdown of this meeting could have used a bit more care and objectivity before being published, at the very least.

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