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Last updated: Sat. Jul. 26, 2014 - 05:35 am EDT

COLUMN

Mountain or mole hill, homeowners wish city hadn't 'protected' them

Could better communication have prevented buffer nobody seems to want?

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When government officials approve construction of projects expected to create noise, lights or lots of activity, they often try to protect neighbors by compelling the developer to erect some kind of buffer between their homes and the project in question.

But as Robert Bosserman stood in his back yard and watched workers build up a three-foot mound of dirt between his property and St. Joseph United Methodist Church's “Praise Park,” he made it clear that he and other property owners don't particularly appreciate the Department of Planning Services' “help.”

“I put in a split-rail fence because I wanted to see the green space, the wildlife (with) birds, geese, ducks, even an occasional deer or fox,” said Bosserman, who has lived in Lynhurst Drive since 1963. “I see no added benefit to the mounds. They do not do anything to promote compatibility between different land uses.”

So you might be asking: If Bosserman and his neighbors don't want the mound, the church apparently agrees and no doubt could have found better uses for the thousands of dollars the work will cost, why did city planners require the barrier in the first place?

Bureaucracy may be partly to blame, but the real culprit behind this man-bites-dog turn of events may be the lack of communication.

“The thing that irritates us is that nobody from the church told us they were being forced into (erecting the berm). If they had, we could have gone down and complained,” he said, noting that he and his neighbors received no warning before work on the barrier began this week for the 29-acre park at 5396 St. Joe Center Road approved in 2010. Bosserman and many of his neighbors made their feelings known at the time, and after four years of inactivity had thought they might prevail before discovering otherwise.

In a letter to Bosserman, St. Joseph's senior pastor, Russ Abel, said the church has tried to be a good neighbor but feels it was “required to install the mounds that were on the drawings (submitted for approval). While we may disagree with their decision, we respect the authority of the Department of Planning Services.”

But according to Paul Blisk, deputy director of land use, no one representing the church – including professionals who know local development guidelines -- ever asked for a waiver from regulations requiring a buffer on such projects. Officials have the authority to grant such a waiver, although Blisk said approval would have been far from certain.

The buffer lets people know where the park ends and private yards begin, he said, noting that future homeowners may not share Bosserman's opinion.

As it is, he said, planners agreed to reduce the mound's height from the original eight feet to three feet or less on some areas, with trees on top but breaks in between to preserve as much of he original view as possible.

As development disputes go, even Bosserman admits this is a relatively small one. He supports the park, which the city says can be used from dawn to dusk for certain athletic and church events, and knows talking about his concerns now won't remove the dirt already piled behind his house and that of neighbor Mark Douglass, who said the mound will make it harder for homeowners to notice any inappropriate activities in the park.

“We're the first line of defense,” he said.

But, just maybe, the lesson of this man-bites-dog story will prevent similar and possibly larger misunderstandings in the future. And that lesson is this: Communication is crucial. Government officials often have some discretion, but will be encouraged to use it only when they know the public wants it that way.

Otherwise, it's easier to go by the book.

And as result, a lot of money is being spent on something that is opposed by the very people it supposedly benefits.

“This doesn't enhance our properties. There's no common sense,” Bosserman complained.

But no abject victims or obvious villains, either, it must be said. Until, perhaps, next time.

kleininger@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.


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