(Editor’s Note: Township Board member Rudy Rudolph has something to say about the most recent township meeting where building heights were the topic of conversation. Read on for his thoughts. And if you’ve got something to say about anything related to the Old Mission Peninsula, write it up and send it to me, [email protected]. -jb)
The Township is at it again! Those damn township officials think nothing about stepping on the rights of regular citizens! The bums! I have a good right to be upset! That seemed to be the attitude of around 30 percent of the citizens attending the joint Planning Commission and Township Board meeting on Nov. 14. The jeering and booing generally disrupted what was supposed to be an open and businesslike exchange of ideas. Let me share with you what was going through my mind watching all this.
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I couldn’t help but think back to the mob scenes I used to see in those “old time” westerns. Growing up in the fifties, the Saturday matinees at the Viking Theater in downtown Appleton, Wisconsin, were a common diversion for us kids. You know the movies I’m talking about. You can still find them on YouTube. The Lordly, free wheeling Cattle Baron, used to having his way in the unfettered freedom of the open plains, is set against the settlers and the townspeople who are trying to civilize the west by bringing in law and order! Oh, and they bring those dang fences (read “ordinances” here) too!
Then you have the Nefarious Saloon Owner who makes his living off the thirsty, sex starved cowboys who work for the Cattleman and who descend on the town, every payday, directly to the Crystal Palace Emporium to “let off steam.” Those rowdy cowboys invariably get into trouble, perhaps even get involved in shout outs. It gets bad, really bad!
Well, the plot thickens. The townspeople band together to pass some laws and hire a sheriff, usually played by someone like Gary Cooper or Gregory Peck, to bring “law and order” to the town, for the good of the community. Sooner or later, the sheriff has to throw one of those cowboys, or in the worst case scenario, one of the hired guns of the Cattleman or Saloon owner, in jail. Neither the Cattleman and/or the Saloon owner like this, so one or both of them whip up a mob scene designed to disrupt the authority of the sheriff and “Take Back the Town.”
Yep, pardner, in my opinion, it was just like that. Before me was a mob of people that were told, nay convinced, by one or two vocal standouts on social media, that their “rights” were being “trampled” by those nasty, power loving, rights grabbing Township Officials.
And over what subject was all this rights trampling taking place? Well, your Township Planner was merely trying to clarify, with input from the public, at a well publicized, open, public meeting, how the citizens wanted an ordinance, that has been on the books for decades, to be interpreted. Does that sound like trampling? Really? And what was the issue? How to measure the height of residential buildings. For goodness sake!
Any quick Google search will convince you that the height of residential buildings is a normal restriction set in almost any land use ordinance in our wonderful United States. You might wonder why this is so common. After all, it’s a free country. Shouldn’t I be able to do whatever I want?
There are really three reasons that I can think of to restrict building height. First, neither pilots nor the Federal Aviation Authority like tall buildings on the approach path to an airport. I can assure you this is true because, being a licensed pilot, I don’t like anything sticking up in the airspace. Well, OK, that does make sense but, hey, we are not anywhere near an airport here on the Old Mission Peninsula. At least not yet.
Second, people seem to want their right to open space around their buildings and their view shed to be protected. Well now, this may strike a little closer to home. Let’s say you have found your dream property on a land development here on the Old Mission Peninsula. It’s one of the upper slope sites with clear views of East Bay and the surrounding orchards and vineyards. It’s expensive, but the view is worth it! You invest in the lot and build your dream home.
Then someone buys the lot across the road and decides to build a really, REALLY big structure with towers and turrets blocking your view. Would you be upset? You bet! And do you think that could never happen on Old Mission? If you do, you are totally naive!
If there were not protective ordinances, it could and — because it would be to the economic advantage of the builders and developers — it would! But, this isn’t even the really, really, REALLY important reason for building height restrictions.
In a former life I was trustee of a rural Fire Protection District in Illinois. I served on that board for 18 years, nine of them as president of the board. You might be interested to learn that our county ordinance limited building heights to 35 feet, measured from average grade to the midpoint of the roof. If you research ordinances throughout the country, you will find this is a very typical residential building height restriction. There was, and is, a very good reason for this restriction. Our Illinois rural fire equipment could not reach any higher than about 25 feet. If they needed to extricate someone from the upper floor of a burning building, that was it! There is no greater fear to a fire fighter than having someone trapped in a burning building where they cannot be reached.
Think about that a little bit. Do you know how high your local fire fighting equipment can realistically reach? Would you hope your fire fighters could reach you if your house were on fire and you were trapped in an upper floor?
Now, in Illinois, where we lived, it was not hard to figure out how to measure building height. Heck, it was flat as a pancake. We used to joke that the highest elevation in our district was the overpass over Interstate 72. But in Old Mission we have highly variable terrain. Because of this, it is really attractive to be able to use the terrain to advantage, when building, to get that extra walk out basement as usable living space.
And there is where the problem comes in from a fire safety standpoint. If the building is on fire, and you can’t get to it from the front because of where the fire is, then you have to attack it from the rear, down slope, side. From that position, it may be well over 25 feet to that upper, third floor, window egress.
And this is why there is a legitimate public safety question about not only what restrictions should be placed on building height, but also how to measure the building height on sloping ground. And that is why your Planner was asking the very simple question.
To those of you who presented yourselves as a mob scene on Nov. 14, I would point out that you could have learned all this yourselves by a) calling your township office to discuss why there are building height restrictions, or b) doing a Google search of “building height restrictions” like I did.
Instead, you chose to listen to a few people who told you your precious “rights” were being trampled on, and you acted just like the mob from one of those old westerns.
A good question, in my mind, is just why the people stirring the mob frenzy wanted that intimidating mob scene to happen. Why would it be to their advantage to have the normal, open and rational work of your township disrupted? Are they akin to the Cattle Barons or Saloon Owners of the old westerns?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is something to ponder, and shame on you for letting them get to you. You’re better than that!
Thanks for listening to an old man.
W. William Rudolph
One of your Voluntary, Power Grabbing Township Trustees
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb