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Only problem residents had with the Habitat home was that its front door was on an alley

July 11, 2004|by Andy Macomber, Boonsboro

To the editor:

Regarding the new Habitat for Humanity house in Boonsboro: Town Manager John Kendall was quoted in the Valley Citizen as saying that a recent meeting between the parties involved was "very professional." This was truly good to hear considering all that has happened, but how professional were the actions of those parties before this meeting?

The citizens of Boonsboro and the county are still waiting for a public explanation as to why permission was granted to build facing an alley in the first place, going against the subdivision ordinance that states, "All lots shall have direct public access to an existing or proposed public street." This after two previous refusals with slightly different plans. When the town council was presented with the concerns over the legitimacy of this, it did the only thing it could, which was to create an emergency ordinance clarifying the existing one.

The Herald-Mail ran an article in the June 22 paper, which had a subhead titled, "After Habitat was given approval Boonsboro residents complained" - yet nowhere in the question-and-answer section that followed does it say why they complained.

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Most people knew a house was to be built on the lot, but which way it would face was not widespread information. As Tim Rowland stated in his opinion column, "It wasn't until the stakes were in the ground that it became an issue." Of course! People were finally able to see which way the house would face. Yet in the same article Rowland clearly states that he is in conflict because his wife is on the board of Habitat. This alone should have been enough not to comment given the conflict of interests.

But even he misrepresents the issue to the public when he stated that neighbors "would fight any attempt to build on the lot in question." This was just not true. The fight was against the way the house would face.

When Habitat was faced with opposition to the project, the organization and its lawyer immediately used the media to claim prejudice despite statements otherwise. Attorney Roger Schlossberg accused opponents of "looking down on families who need affordable homes" and "this is about how we treat our neighbors."

Wrong! Habitat's local director Ms. Cooper's comment, "They have ignorance about us" is strictly untrue. Also, when Schlossberg called the frontage issue a "red herring," he was not there to see two dump trucks take over 30 minutes to navigate into the alley and dump their loads, nearly removing the gutter and trim of a neighbor's garage in the process. Heaven forbid these were fire engines in a hurry.

Regrettably, nowhere in any of its articles on this subject does the newspaper rebuke these issues by clearly stating the fact that this was solely an issue of building placement on the property and an attempt to understand why our planning commission granted the variance. With these comments Habitat and its lawyer, along with vague reporting to the contrary, created the bigotry that it was rallying against and turned a good portion of the county against Boonsboro.

Habitat had its permit to build and it had Boonsboro Mayor Skip Kauffman's word regarding the emergency ordinance that "there won't be anything retroactively (applied)." Why then did it have to strong-arm its way through the concerns of neighbors using the media to win people to its side and flooding town meetings with proponents?

This did nothing more than drive people even further apart than did the comments above. The "not in my back yard" characterization given this issue and believed by many is not true, but the damage has been done. There will be a family that thinks its neighbors hate them. Many in the surrounding county will think that there is a neighborhood of bigots in town.

And because of these "professionals," healing will be a long time in coming.

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