Recalling the stunned silence that greeted the planning board’s 3-2 vote Monday to reject the site plan for Rupco’s Landmark Place project for the old city alms house, I feel pretty safe in saying that no one in the room, maybe not even those who voted against it, expected it to fail.
You’ve probably heard of “jury nullification.” That’s when a jury, presented with evidence that proves someone committed a crime, finds them not guilty anyway, their logic being the accused was justified in doing whatever the accused was accused of. It seems, to me anyway, what happened Monday night was “planning board nullification.”
While sometimes jury nullification is the right thing to do, I don’t think what happened Monday was any kind of justice. Now, it wouldn’t be accurate for me to say I have no sympathy for the neighborhood. Their fears, as unfounded as they may be, are to them real, and for some, quite intense. Only the most morally rectitudinous among us, if we’re all going to be honest, would joyfully welcome a population of homeless people into our midst and not be worried about the impact. This speaks at least as much about our own flaws, and likely more, as it does the homeless. The vulnerable among us, those living on their friends’ couches or in the backs of their own cars, or camped out back of the Kingston Plaza, can’t afford publicists or social media campaigns to spruce up their image, after all.
But many times in life, circumstances — and plain old doing the right thing — call all of us to rise above our fears and move ahead, doubts and all. When Rupco first proposed Landmark Place, I thought it was a good use for a building that was rather a white elephant, but shouldn’t be torn down. I still think that. The need for this kind of housing is obvious, will become even more obvious as Baby Boomers enter their twilight years.
There are suggestions that Rupco should “flip” the alms house, with the not-for-profit maybe even making some money for itself in the deal. But that suggestion, while perfectly valid for a real estate mogul, doesn’t fit in with what Rupco actually does — help people get and stay in homes. The organization’s strong sense of mission, as well a desire to not set a precedent which elements in other communities might follow, virtually demands Rupco battles in court to get the decision overturned.
Which highlights an irony. If Rupco goes forward with litigation, and I support them doing this, the city, whose Common Council voted for the zoning change, will be forced to pay to deal with that litigation. That’s annoying enough, but even more so when you agree with the plaintiffs in the first place.