More History Lessons, And HGTV Too!

Apparently, the ongoing price of receiving important information from the city manager about things like Japanese Knotweed – which can literally destroy your home foundation, takes years to eradicate, and can affect your ability to sell your house – is that we are going to receive uninvited commentary from Mayor Eric Haven. In the future, Haven tells us that he’s going to treat us to more stuff, including discussions of HGTV episodes. Oh, goodie! I totally can’t wait. 🙄

I’m speaking of the letter that accompanied the October 8, 2021 email from the city manager. It certainly appears that one purpose of the letter is to provide cover for the Historic District Commission (HDC). The HDC seems to be doing a lot of fighting with people about fences and porches lately, rather than focusing on what most people would believe is within their purview – the physical structures within the historic district. But, since our city council has given them an open checkbook to pay for attorneys to bring these fights to court, they have no incentive to work things out with any resident. The HDC’s legal expenses are covered by the taxpayers, but if you find yourself in the middle of a legal skirmish, yours won’t be. To add insult to injury, your personal tax dollars will be used to pay a portion of the HDC’s attorneys’ fees to fight you in court.

Normally, I would consider the source and move on, but there was something in this letter that I thought was extremely disturbing. The phrase that caught my eye was: “a historic district is like an HOA [Home Owners Association] without the cost.”

Say what?

Suggesting that the HDC would move further toward becoming a pseudo-HOA is definitely not a good thing. I guess there are people who think HOAs are a great. But I’ll bet that you know a lot of people who won’t purchase a home that is subject to an HOA because they don’t want every aspect of their homes and properties to be subject to arbitrary rules and regulations. I certainly know people like that (I’m one of them).

If our HDC starts to think of itself more broadly as an HOA, that means they can become involved in your choice of curtains and landscaping and Lord knows what else. You could potentially be in a court battle with the HDC if they didn’t like the particular shade of paint color you chose for your home, and they could order your painters to stop work if you didn’t seek preapproval. That’s what it means to have an HDC act like an HOA. Some Clarkston property owners had a taste of an HDC with an HOA mindset a few years ago when an HDC chair obtained a stop work order to prevent them from cutting down their own trees. Their. Own. Trees. This expansionary mindset is something that Haven apparently supports.

I know that there are people – including Haven – who seem to think that, if you don’t fully endorse every HDC decision, you want to destroy the city and don’t support the important work of the HDC, but that is simply not the case. People move to Clarkston because it’s beautiful. I know that was true for us – and we were quite pleased to be part of a historic district, to own a piece of history, and to walk on the same floors as the people who founded this town. We even have a historic artifact left by the man who lived in our home and owned a store in town – it’s really cool! So no, it’s not a question of whether we support the historic district or the HDC – we do. What we don’t support is overreach, a refusal to work with the people who live here, and ever-expanding legal bills. (We’re also not wild about the dysfunctional government, overspending, inability to provide basic services, etc.)

My mother always told me to believe nothing that I hear and only half of what I see. As an adult, I would add to that wisdom by saying that a good way to judge sincerity is by what a person does, not what they say. I’m not sure if people know this, but Haven doesn’t live in the historic district. This means that if the HDC begins to act like an HOA, it won’t affect him at all.

Haven also supported a recent change to the zoning ordinance that will authorize Residential Planned Development Districts. This change would allow a three-story, twenty-unit development at Waldon and Main with up to 10% of that development devoted to commercial use, right near all the historic residential homes. In response to the Planning Commission Chair’s comment that the HDC would have a role in any development, Haven responded that they would have an opinion, but it’s not about preservation because there’s nothing to preserve. In a nutshell, Haven is fine with a large development in the middle of town that isn’t anywhere near his home, and he only supports the HDC’s transformation into an HOA-like entity if it concerns an existing homeowner – but not a developer – and neither would affect Haven in any way.

If we are going to receive information regarding the historic district or Clarkston history along with the city manager’s weekly newsletter, I would much rather receive it from the HDC or the Clarkston Community Historical Society. Perhaps if we received educational information from the HDC directly, they might seem less like an adversary. And, if the city manager’s newsletter is to be expanded to include communications from an elected official, then I think that all of the other city council members should be offered the opportunity to communicate about the city issues that are important to them as well (if they choose to do so).

For those of you who don’t know, the title “mayor” in the City of the Village of Clarkston is not the same as in other cities – here, it simply means that you get to chair city council meetings and have some ceremonial duties. In Haven’s first missive (which was a veiled attack on anyone who didn’t agree with him about “rules” yet bizarrely titled “Bringing People Together”), Haven claimed that he believed he was elected to “lead.” Yet, if he really believed that, the COVID shutdown would have been a perfect time for him to live out that belief by providing information to Clarkston residents. Instead, he was stunningly silent when it would have been important. But now, close to election time? He won’t shut up.

If the city manager’s newsletter isn’t opened up to other elected officials, then this new (and uninvited) addition to the city manager’s weekly communication appears to be nothing more than the use of a taxpayer-funded resource by Haven to boost his preferred city council candidates’ 2021 election (since Haven’s assigned theme for them is preserving the historic district from all of the bad people who apparently don’t share Haven’s vision of our “brand,” whatever the heck that means). Or, it could also be Haven’s attempt to get a head start on his 2022 reelection efforts – rather than any attempt to educate the public.

If this is really about education, then I’d like to hear from people other than Haven, wouldn’t you?