‘No intention to do anything out of the public eye’

Published 11:56 am Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I am writing in response to your editorial of Tuesday, May 31 (“Apartments raise concerns.”)

In particular I would like to respond to your sentence: “Instead of looking citizens in the eye and taking a stand, the planning commission chickened out and postponed its meeting until an undetermined date.”

Before you impugn the character of people you don’t know, I would ask that you act as a responsible journalist and ask them their side of the story.  I am not sure who made the decision to delay the planning commission meeting, but when I was informed of this before the public hearing it made sense to me.

Typical public hearings and planning commission meetings last a total of about five minutes as the issues are normally quite straightforward.  The commission gathers in the front row of the council chamber and conducts the meeting.

From the activity on social media, it was obvious that this public hearing would last much longer than usual. I believe the comments might still have been going close to or after 8 p.m. Delaying the meeting gave the commission the chance to ponder the public remarks in more than a cursory manner and allowed the actual town council meeting to be held and end at a reasonable time. More importantly, it allowed the commission on May 23 to sit in the raised seats normally reserved for council members and “look the citizens in the eye.”

A survey with a variety of possible times for the meeting was sent to all members and the Monday time was one that all could attend.

I am a firm believer that sunshine is the best disinfectant and I can assure you that there was no intention to do anything out of the public eye. In my decade as dean at Longwood I had to make some tough decisions and while some might question my judgement I think few would question my character.

I was heartened to see such a great public response to an obviously contentious issue. Some of the people who spoke (Navona Hart, Chuck Dowdy, Brad Watson) are personal friends of mine and many of the other speakers are people I don’t know as well but for whom I also have great respect.  This made my vote in favor of moving the proposal forward a bit uncomfortable but I tried to make the best decision I could with the facts I had at hand.

I’ve spoken with all of these people since the meeting and we are still friends. I shook hands after the meeting with both of the commission members who did not vote as I did and we still have respect for each other despite our difference of opinion. In a democracy, everyone has the chance to cast their vote as they see fit and we don’t always agree.

Since reporter Jordan Miles did not report my reasons for voting as I did, I will briefly restate them. First, while I have empathy for the folks in the Greens South, they did buy land adjacent to commercially zoned land and to expect that to remain as forest forever is not reasonable. Second, I disagree with the argument that there is not a market for these apartments, but, even if I am wrong, I think this is irrelevant.

If someone wants to invest millions of dollars in this venture and no one shows up that is his problem.

Finally, I do think the traffic issue is a concern which is why we requested a professional traffic study. The outcome of that study was the recommendation to move ahead. I do think it will add some traffic to that end of town.

However, those in town who call for better schools or a better grocery store need to realize that these things require more people and a bigger tax base. Proposals like this are not black and white and we all have to use our best judgement in weighing all the factors involved.

The commission’s vote is just a recommendation to town council. I would encourage all those who feel passionately about this issue to contact their elected representatives before the town council makes an actual binding vote on the proposal. And I would ask you, sir, to tread more carefully before accusing others of cowardice.

Chuck Ross is a member of the planning commission and a professor of physics at Longwood University. His email address is rosscd@longwood.edu.