Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Walking toward the light

The attorney thoroughly questioned me about my case. Many of the myths surrounding (and protecting) TLC Catering were identified. All of the communications from the city regarding the "not a business" across my fence became suspect. He felt that primary research needed to be documented and the argument tightened.

What became clear to me within that hour was the lack of land use permits for the owners to operate their business on residential property. These permits are issued by the county or city zoning departments, and were formerly called conditional use permits, until 1992 when home occupation ordinances were adopted by both jurisdictions and the name was changed to Home Occupation permits. He assigned me to go back and find that permit for that property.

For months now, I had been assuming city personnel knew what they were talking about, even if the resulting situation was not right. See? To Ass-U-Me is to make an ass out of you and me.

My second pass of research turned up inconsistencies in the history I thought I knew. My originally assumed annexation date moved fifteen years earlier, the various ordinance adoption dates thus became very important, and new information and records were coming from many different sources - the whole project was becoming unwieldy without a framework.

A timeline structure evolved. Various documents could now be treated as attachments to a simple flow, keyed into the narrative with footnotes. Now the interplay of jurisdictions, ordinances, and dates could be easily seen. It was like putting many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place. Besides the exhiliration of the emerging picture, it was extremely irritating that I was doing the work I had several times asked the city staff and city attorney to do - detail out my neighbors' "grandfathering" claim.

Something had been tickling my brain for a long while - and it finally came out. My neighbors were constantly claiming "grandfathered" rights to run their business and had permits to prove their claim. The trouble was the permits were from the county health department, not from the county or city. They were relying exclusively on a county department I had not looked at to this point - a department with public records!

Ahhh, what a treasure trove awaited me! First, though, you have to sift a lot of dirt to find the gold nuggets.

The earliest health department records were scattered and indefinite, but sufficient to show the progression of the business. I'm sure the owners' penchant for sloppy correspondence and incomplete application forms, etc., made life difficult for the regulators charged with making inspections and issuing permits. Let's just politely say my neighbors gave the barest minimum of attention needed to keep the health department issuing them those sanitation permits.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a tiny red sleigh and eight tiny reindeer! (Oops... wrong poem) This is weird!? This letter is written on city letterhead, addressed to my neighbor, and filed with the health department? I read the few short lines, examined the date and the signature - and I knew my troubles were over!

No comments: