The Planning Commissioner
A Small Bully
By the time he finished ranting about the inappropriateness of issuing permits for in home day care facilities I knew he had some type of chip on his shoulder. He sat at the head of the Planning Commission’s table, an appointed chairman, sporting the insular smirk of the smug select,who ran our small township. He quoted the ordinance in full that discriminated against child day care centers by inflicting a barrage of regulations; everything from road right-a-ways to lot depth so stringent the average in home provider would never find enough resources for compliance.I watched as the property owner I represented sank her head. I whispered to her not to give up hope.She smiled slightly and readied for the debate.
As Zone Administrator for our township, citizens came to me for permits to manage their land in accordance with regulations. As well as issue permits, I was called upon to represent them for variances from ordinance before the Board of Appeals and if necessary the Planning Commission. The matter of day care centers in a residential district was an issue that could call for a revision of the ordinance. The problem had already gone before the Board of Appeals and the vote had been split. The Planning Commission had been petitioned to make the final decision.
Times had changed since the ordinance had been written twenty years before. The senior population in our township was slowly dying and many had left their homes to their children or sold them to young families moving into the area. The need for child day care had increased and had a viable business market. The township had limited business properties and those zoned for business lay in wetland areas; a strategic plan to keep the township small and private for the old fathers who preferred the quietness of a retirement community. Thus, many small businesses would have to be built in an “in home” environment leading to traffic and noise problems within residential areas. I had five children of my own and was one of those families that had moved into the retirement area. I needed day care services as well.
The chairman continued to point out parts of the ordinance requirements that must be met before they would approve these help centers. He stood up to emphasis his resolve; only to reveal his stature. He was a short slight built man with dark uneven decaying teeth. He wore a green and blue plaid flannel shirt tucked into his straight leg blue jeans. He had not even removed his dusty black baseball cap that read “Bud Light” across the top, to show respect at a formal hearing. The other members of the board stared up at him quietly. He was the only member speaking.
I had had a run in with him earlier that year. He was a rural mail carrier and would yell at my children as he passed my house telling them to stay out of the street. I could understand his concern for safety but he was always irritable and rarely smiled. I stopped him one day and introduced him to my children. I told him each of their names and asked him to speak with them directly about his concerns about skate boarding and bicycles in the street. He grumbled and quickly drove to the next mail box.
He was obviously not a formally educated man. His hands were dark and rough and I was told he worked on automobiles and small engines. The house where he lived was littered with old motors, tires, broken bikes and metal forms of all types. He lived alone a neighbor said and did not go out much socially except for township events such as the Fireman’s Barbeque or Spring Cleanup events. His mail car was littered with debris; over flowing ashtrays and empty styrofoam cups. I saw immediately that he was angry and disgruntled. I hugged my children and told them not to mind him but to stay out of the streets with their toys.
He said as he stood behind the board table, that lot size and setbacks for the business questioned would have to be met according to in home business standards before the board would consider issuing a non- conforming land use permit. I told him that unfortunately that would not be possible as the home already existed according to residential standards. He raised his hands abruptly in dismissal stating that if the client could not meet the regulations he was going to call a vote from the board.
I was infuriated by this uneducated little Napoleon, whose personal property was a blight area and, who I was told, had been one of the initial drafters of the ordinance. He was Fire Chief, Board Chairman and mail man all rolled up into this tight wired angry conservative with a chip on his shoulder about young families with children.
I stood up and stared him directly in the eye. I told him he had no right to enforce an ordinance filled with discrimination. I walked directly to the board table and produced old documents procured from the County building that showed laws still on our books that said no one of color was to be permitted to buy land in our township either. He cringed. The rest of the puppet board stood around the documents to inspect the verbage. They shook their heads in disbelief. What I said was true. He sat down abruptly.
The board made a recommendation to the Township Supervisor and attorney to call a meeting to examine and revise the ordinance in line with today’s needs and standards.After months of debate, reasonable in home day care standards were created and there are now three centers available for our citizens.
I learned a year later that my mail carrier had never had children and had wanted a family very much. He had been through two divorces because of his sterility. He resigned from the Planning Commission.
I got a better paying job and left zoning. He decided to smile when he delivered the mail. I saw him stop and talk with my youngest sons once. I ran into him during hunting season when he was out with his brothers. He asked me if I left the township job because of him. I told him I would not leave anything because of him. We were married, he, I and my five children one year later. Ten years later, we divorced. The issues that had divided us in the beginning resurfaced again. Wise people say that what brings people together will divide them as well.