The rule of law here broke down with Jasper city council’s no-decision on a basic annexation request last week. The lack of a motion to accept (or even to decline) a 2.73 acre parcel along Highway 515 into the city limits smells capricious and arbitrary.
Further, it sets a bad precedent and sends the wrong message to the development industry.
For decades the city has operated by accepting parcels into their corporate boundaries with few stipulations. The only practical requirements are that the parcel borders existing city property; the owner had to request it (no one was ever forced in); and some compatible zoning was put in place. Zoning decisions are subjective and this leads to legitimate disagreements, but annexations were cut and dry matters. There was no threshold for acceptance, if you wished to be annexed into Jasper, you were – at least before last week.
It’s been a fair system for commercial property. If you need sewage, then you must be in the city limits and pay city taxes.
What the council has done is upend that system, setting a new protocol that the five elected members will judge what properties are fit to be in Jasper and what are not.
It is akin to the department of motor vehicles allowing personal judgment to determine who gets a driver’s license.
Imagine a driver’s license office manager saying, “That well-dressed young man gets a license today, but that seedy-looking dude doesn’t.” And this is what the council has done with their lack of a motion.
Making the whole matter more suspicious, the property in question appears a solid fit into the city limits with the commercial zoning requested. It is surrounded by Jasper jurisdiction, near a convenience store. The developer said he plans to put in a restaurant, a business that could operate next to a convenience store under the proposed zoning. So not only would the annexation be routine but even the zoning shouldn’t raise eyebrows.
In any event, it’s not the government’s place to filter out which businesses they want and which they don’t want based on personal preferences. What they are charged with is seeing that reasonable codes are in place and enforced fairly and uniformly.
The problem may have been (as claimed by the mayor and the developer) a grudge or distrust of the developer by the council. As anyone who follows local news knows, developer David Shouse is involved in a pending lawsuit over the council’s denial of rezoning for another of his properties for apartments. He was also behind the whole “adult entertainment” hoax sign put up on yet another of his properties – probably not the shrewdest move for someone seeking to do business in the city and run for commission chair but neither the lawsuit, nor the sign, and certainly not his campaign, justify the council’s skirting standard operating procedure.
It’s possible there is more to this story than meets the eye. As close readers may recall, the council didn’t actually vote down the annexation. They didn’t make any motion, nor any public comment on why they wouldn’t render a decision – effectively they killed it without wishing to take any responsibility.
That’s doesn’t fly and that’s where we fear collateral damage and poor precedent were set. If they had issued a statement saying they were voting no because of some reason, even if people disagreed with their reasoning, it gives some logic to this apparently illogical move.
Instead it’s hard not to be left with the surface impression: The council wouldn’t allow an outspoken developer to have a piece of appropriate property brought into the city limits. Now, who is going to invest in commercial real estate bordering Jasper when it appears that if you rub the council wrong, you are denied access to city infrastructure?
The council needs to remedy or explain what appears to be personal feelings thwarting fair treatment of all property owners.