If you don’t praise Him for the fabulous autumn weather we have here—compared to the biting cold, the wind, the sleet, the days on end of gray flannel skies of other places—then Father God might just take it away from us. I hear He’s pretty tough. Not like His long-haired son with the same last name.
Believe it or not, Bob believes in God and loves him some Jesus. So, in addition to saying prayers of thanks, I have been taking advantage of this wonderful weather to bike around town. On my route, as it has been since I was a kid, is the G.A. White Addition, next to my family’s ’hood. I have been allowed for some time to cross the boundary between Forest Hills and the future home of Chick-fil-A on the corner of 11th and Pear.
A newcomer would have a hard time finding that boundary or pointing out to you with certainty which homes were occupied by Father God-fearing homeowners and a migratory flock of renters who love Huntsville no more than they love the gas station restroom they stop at to piss in while on their way down the interstate.
You can’t tell from the neat homes, the trim and tended yards, the late-model vehicles parked in the driveways. No sir, ma’am. Inside the G.A. White subdivision looks a lot like the inside of Forest Hills. A collection of families. Not a remnant of ramshackle crack homes hanging like a fart cloud from the ass pipe of a fire-breathing commercial dragon.
The only problem with the neighborhood, founded on what was the outskirts of town, is that it is located near the intersection of the city’s main drag and I-45 and directly across the street from three fast-food restaurants. Some of the subdivision’s homes border 11th Street and serve as a sound and visual buffer for the rest of the neighborhood, which has been so far protected—mostly—by deed restrictions that prohibit mixed use and its city zoning classification, which limits it to single family homes.
If you develop the lots in that block bordered by 11th, Pear, Cedar and Hickory, you will have moved noise and traffic from one side of the street—long-term commercial—into an established neighborhood. Patrons leaving the new business will exit into the neighborhood and travel residential streets to Normal Park to catch the light for a left turn back onto 11th. This wouldn’t be welcome in most neighborhoods, and it should be no surprise that White subdivision residents object, too.
The combination of deed restrictions and zoning designation is evidence that the people who once lived in this little neighborhood loved it and wanted to protect it. And, judging from their comments to P & Z and city council, the current ones still do.
But now comes Jack Choate, Esq., representing three property owners who don’t live in the White subdivision and never intended to.
Christians right down to their chicken
Since I got home a couple of weeks ago, Dad and I have resumed our Tuesday night routine watching Must-see TV on public access Channel 7 with our dose of single malt scotch as my apolitical mother bitches at us from downstairs.
Council meetings begin with an invocation from someone other than James Fitch and Ronnie Allen, perhaps both mainstream Protestants, as well as Keith “Recounted” Olson, oratorically challenged and with low cred in the family values department.
You can tell when it’s about to get good b/c the council invocation includes pleas to Father God for civility and wisdom. Yet from week to week these folks don’t seem to notice that He never answers their prayers—or He likes Ronnie Allen better than them.
This is the literal definition of insanity—trying something over and over and expecting different results. That’s right: Huntsville’s city council is insane. Thus the conclusion of Bob’s civic syllogism.
“What is it with the ‘Father God’ thing?” I asked my dad. “What’s wrong with plain God or Lord or just Jesus?”
“They’re making sure the Head Guy knows they’re talking to Him. Not the Holy Ghost or God Jr. The guy at the top of the org chart. He’s Father God, not Jesus God.”
“But I thought the Holy Trinity—oh, never mind,” I said as the parade of council proclamations began.
“That’s right,” Dad said. “Drink your drink and shut up.”
And then the show started.
“Who’s that smarmy leprechaun?” I said as Choate took the podium for his thirty-something page presentation on his clients’ wish to take out a block of an old neighborhood, shunting aside the Planning and Zoning Commission’s previous denial of their request to rezone and pissing on 60-year-old neighborhood deed restrictions.
“See, it’s this shit that keeps your people down, Bob. Keep digging that hole. Keep talking that trash.”
“I’m sorry. Who is that puckishly handsome, well-spoken shyster in the Brooks Brothers suit?” I said.
“Shut up and listen,” Dad said.
So I did.
Choate represents three hometown Huntsville speculators—Micah Slaughter, Rob McCaffety and Eric Johnston, a.k.a. MRE Enterprises—who bought on spec the property fronting 11th Street in the southwest corner of the White Addition behind Bandera Grill.
They want to develop it and lo, the block is already ripe to fall, the victim of an economic Domino Theory that Choate explained to a sympathetic council minus one James Fitch, who recused himself because, reportedly, he has connections to neighborhood landowners. It’s too bad that everyone on council is not as scrupulous, as homeowner Scott Hornung pointed out during the ensuing public hearing. But I digress.
One trait we humans share is the conviction that we should have what we want when we want it. We are hard-wired through evolution, which Father God had nothing to do with, to blast through any obstacles in our path to get what we want.
But many of us also follow the rules of social contract. We keep our hands and feet to ourselves, and we don’t take what doesn’t belong to us. Even observing a universal evolutionary imperative—”gimme it”—many of us also do not set our sights on something that we can only get by violating someone else’s rights. Especially when other alternatives are available.
Their lawyer Choate showed up Tuesday at city council to do an end run on the P&Z, chaired by client and “unsophisticated” speculator Johnston. (Johnston had recused himself.)
Why did P&Z say no? ‘Cause of the deed restrictions; ’cause MRE won’t say what they want to do with the property; and ’cause there isn’t a traffic study to predict the impact of development on the subdivision.
This is what Choate had to say about that to the council, which includes at least one member who is or has been a partner with one of his clients in other land deals.
“As you know, the richest and most connected assholes in the community get to decide the best use of other people’s property. Let’s blow off these White subdivision deed restrictions. Ain’t nobody over there gonna bust a grape over it. We’ll get you a damn traffic study that says whatever you want it to say after city planner Aron Kulhavy becomes Economic Development Director Aron Kulhavy. And we’re—uh—gonna put a Chick-fil-A on the property. That’s right! Chick-fil-fucking-A.”
Right-o, daddy-o. These good homegrown Christians are gonna put Christian Chicken on that lot. Not no liquor store. Not no honky-tonk. Not no oil well. Now, stack that against the whining of naysayers who long-ago yielded their neighborhood character to vagabond squatters, who, pssst! Do Not Vote.
“What’s so cool about Chick-fil-A?” I asked Dad.
“It’s code,” my dad said. “For anti-gay. Church’s Chicken, despite the name, is chicken for the masses, which might include you and the rest of the gay and gay-loving naysayers.”
“What, now the naysayers are not just against growth, they’re also gay?”
“Kendall Scudder is NOT GAY,” my mother yelled from downstairs.
“Jesus,” my dad muttered. “Nobody said he was!”
“Keith Olson said he was! And that’s just not nice!”
“No,” Dad bellowed, “it’s not nice!”
“Keith Olson said Kendall Scudder was gay? Holy shit! How very civil,” I said. “How does he figure that?”
“Maybe they’ve been laying up around Huntsville playing ‘Brokeback Mountain’ together. How the hell should I know?” Dad said. “I wish everyone would shut up about this gay bullshit.”
“Me, too,” I said.
“Why? Is there something you want to tell me?” my father said.
“Our son is not gay!” Mom yelled from downstairs.
Dad looked at me with one raised eyebrow. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
“I’m dating a new girl,” I said. “You haven’t met her yet.”
I hadn’t met her yet, either, but I didn’t say that.
“Thank the Lord,” he said. “What’s her name? Is she from here?”
“Yes, I think so, and her name is, um, Echo.”
“Echo?” my mom yelled. “What kind of name is that?!”
“Echo What?” Dad said absently, distracted now by the neighborhood people who had begun streaming to the podium to challenge the shyster in the Brooks Brothers suit.
“They don’t have a prayer, do they, Pop? I mean, the neighborhood won’t enforce those deed restrictions if the consequence is a public whipping for having fought against yet another delicious and taxable ‘win-win’.”
“Probably not this time. But if you ask me they’d better watch out,” Dad said as Father God let Councilman Ronnie Allen pop off at Jack Choate. “Or these chickens will come home to roost.”