Not in my backyard…

The local county zoning board is set to hear a request for a variance centered on our little corner of the Ceciltucky. This long stretch of the Elk Neck peninsula we call home ranges from protected wetlands, state park, state forest, conservation trust land, horse farms, and what in zoning parlance is “low density residential” housing. That LDR designation is what’s important here in that it’s what’s prevented all manner of undesirable development – things like condo blocks, giant houses on tiny lots, and, last year, a proposed “RV park” that got rolled back when property owners howled.

Now that county is considering what, at first blush, might seem to be a so what variance that would allow an additional 2500 square feet of space to be put under roof on that particular parcel of land that was once home to a now-defunct local convenience store. The wider issue, and there’s always a wider issue, is that the stated purpose of the variance is to allow Dollar General to develop the site as a commercial retail space squarely in the middle of what is almost exclusively a low density residential area. I say almost, because the Dollar General property is directly next to a small, locally owned convenience store where you can stop to get your lottery tickets, a fried egg sandwich, coffee, and as much of the local gossip as you can stand. This place is a community asset.

The request, of course, discusses all of the wonderful benefits of having a Dollar General come to “town.” As a consummate writer of bullshit memoranda, I can tell you whatever legal beagle put it together did a fine job off adding the bells and whistles to make an appealing case without saying much of anything at all.

I have great discomfort about telling a property owner what they can or can’t do with their property. That said, though, the owners purchased it knowing full well what was and wasn’t allowed based on the zoning in place when they purchased. I moved down to this quiet part of the county specifically because it was far away from the “retail opportunities” along major local highways. The last thing I want is to see some generic rubber dog shit selling baby big box store moving in just up the way. Based on the electrons I’m seeing being burned up online, the bulk of my neighbors agree. I guess all that’s left is seeing if we can pummel the county into submission one more time.

Like a responsible adult…

It was a long day at the office capped off by a two hour meeting to end the day. Every fiber of my being is screaming at me to throw on something flannel, have some soup, and stick my nose in a book for the duration of today’s hours of operation.

Then there’s this shitty little voice in the back of my head prodding me to do the responsible adult thing and show up at the home owners association meeting scheduled this evening. Seriously, who schedules things at 7PM in the middle of the week without providing a phone or video conference option? Leaving the house in the middle of the damned night grumble grumble.

Yes, I know I should go defend my interests against an elective body whose decisions have the effective force of law in order to stave off any increase in the association fees or a directive that all front doors must be painted purple. It’s the right and responsible thing to do. It’s practical and sensible and I just don’t want to do it.

Look, I know these things are supposed to harken back to the town meetings of yore, but democracy at the lowest level is just ponderous. It’s necessary but inconvenient. Maybe that’s what government is really supposed to be in the end. Still, I’d be ok if the 15 out of 120 homeowners who bother to show up at these things adopted a more convenient way of doing business.

Bank of (Parts of) America…

I got a real paper letter in the mail this evening telling me that my local branch of Bank of America is closing. Decreasing foot traffic, more people doing banking online or by phone, blah, blah, blah. The only reason I mention this is because I’ve kept an account with Bank of America for the last 14 years. I originated three mortgages with them. And have mostly been satisfied with dealing with them overall. I always liked that no matter where I ended up in the country there was always a Bank of America branch. They’ve taken a lot of flack as one of those “too big to fail” operations, but my list of complaints has been pretty minimal until recently.

About a year ago all of the BoA ATMs disappeared from Cecil County, which was marginally inconvenient, but not onerous since there was a branch a few thousand yards from the office. With that now closing up shop and the next closest being on the opposite side of town from my normal travel route, that pretty much ends all but one part of my business relationship with BoA. There are too many banks and credit unions out there to be bothered with one that doesn’t even compete to be convenient.

I got a good enough rate on my last refinance that I’m not throwing them over the side completely, but I’ll only be funneling enough cash through them to pay the note on time. Reserve funds, and everything else will have to transfer over to another institution. The local credit union may not actually appreciate my nickel and dime banking, but they somehow manage to give me that illusion anyway. So when it comes time to refinance again, someone else will get that business too.

They may be too big to fail. I may be too small to miss. But they’d be well served to know that even out here in the sticks, we still have options. I’ll be exercising mine as soon as practical.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Customer service. On Tuesday morning, I drove an hour towards Baltimore expecting to transact a not insignificant amount of business with a well reviewed small local retailer. I originally planned to go in on Monday, but noted on their website that they were closed Sundays and Mondays. No harm no foul. Of course their site didn’t make any mention of the fact that they were also going to be closed on Tuesday this week. So I wasted two hours and burned half a tank of gas driving around north eastern Maryland on Tuesday for no apparent reason. As much as I’ll be the first to tell you that keeping up with a website is a pain in the ass, it seems to me if you’re going to bother to have one, it’s probably worth keeping the information up to date. Otherwise, as in this case, you’ve thoroughly annoyed a cash customer before they even walk through the door. I’ll probably still do business with this outfit because they’ve been recommended to me so highly, but it wouldn’t take much in the way of less than excellent service at this point to send me down the road to the next closest competitor.

2. Email. If anyone is wondering how I spent my first day at work after almost two weeks off, it was largely dedicated to reading, responding to, filing, or deleting 127 emails that rolled in over the Christmas-to-New-Years window. That’s not an exceptionally heavy load – it would have been far worse if I had taken off two weeks in say the middle of the spring. Look, I think it’s cute that there were a few people out there trying to get something done over the last two weeks, but since I wasn’t one of them, it’s going to take me a day or two to get back up to speed. Especially since I wasn’t exactly spending a lot of time pondering what important bit of email I was missing while I was away. Trust me when I tell you that sending me a follow up email the day I get back isn’t going to improve the response you’ll get. In fact it’s just going to make the process work more slowly for both of us. Now that I’m back in the saddle, it’s safe to assume I’ll work your issue in whatever priority it’s given by those elevated to positions higher than mine. In the meantime, have a cookie and get off my ass.

3. Attention span. I don’t know if it’s me or my surroundings, but lately my attention span feels like it’s all of about 37 seconds. That’s great for some things, I suppose, but I’d have a hard time listing what any of those might be. For purposes of reading, writing, or really trying to get anything done with any semblance of speed, it’s really kind of a hassle. I’d hoped that the new year would bring some kind of renewed focus. Unfortunately, it feels a lot like 2013: Part Two in that regard. As always, I’ll muddle through until the glitch works itself out.

Hometown boy makes good (or possibly evil)…

It’s not the post I had planned for this evening, but it always seems best to strike while the iron is hot. I’d like to thank the Cumberland Times News for picking up my press release and giving this hometown boy a little bit of publicity today. I’m not quite sure if I’ve “made good” or not, but if nothing else I like to think I’ve “made interesting.” It’s been my experience thus far in life that interesting trumps good on most occasions.

CTN Article - May 17, 2013If you’re looking at the print edition, the article is right there in three short columns on page 2C below the fold. I’ll take all the help I can get and I appreciate them helping me get out the word.

Apparently I’m a slice of life… Who knew?

Reliability…

One of the aspects of life in memphis you learn to respect (or at least expect) is that the tension between city and county government is going to, at the very least, be entertaining. Last week, the city’s elected school board gave up in disgust and handed in their charter to operate to the city. In theory, that means that the responsibility to educate the former city school student should fall to the Shelby County Board of Education. Of course dumping 150K+ urban students into the happily suburban school board’s lap was something they wanted no part of. Enter the State of Tennessee in the form of the legislature that swiftly passed a law postponing any actual changes. The assembled wise men of the legislature were followed by the lawyers – which almost guarantees that the issue could continue to provide almost limitless opportunities for entertainment for the foreseeable future.

I bust on Memphis alot, which as a taxpayer I consider both a right and a duty, but I suspect the issues at work here are less about Memphis as itself and more about the urban/suburban/exurban dynamic at play in cities across the country. I won’t even pretend at knowing the answer to those issues, but I think recognizing them is at least a starting point. Memphis is the classic city that still thinks of itself as a small town on the edge of the river, the cycles of agricultural boom and bust gave way to industrialization, which is sliding sideways into the post-industrial era without much of a plan or even a sense of itself as a city. This is going to get ugly, but it should be fun to watch. Memphis is reliable like that.