Letter Dept. – Who Are the Real Stakeholders?

In his September article in the Pecan Press (“The Accessory Dwelling Unit Survey: Methods, Results and Aftermath”), Larry Gilg cites the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan Contact Team (HPNPCT) directive to “work on behalf of all stakeholders in the neighborhood planning area” as the justification for promoting smaller lot sizes for accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Let’s look at the efforts of the HPNPCT to try to determine stakeholder interests and the results of those efforts.

In regard to the survey, while the HPNPCT survey was certainly a well-meaning attempt to determine stakeholder feelings, it did not include appropriate controls to ensure the response of a representative sample of stakeholders, response by stakeholders only, and only one response by each stakeholder. Consequently, it did not advance the cause of quantifying stakeholder opinion. The critique of the survey by the meeting attendees was not out of line, especially considering that meeting attendance included people trained in survey construction and analysis and at least one statistician.

Two HPNPCT meetings have been devoted to ADUs. The July 28 meeting described in the article was a regularly scheduled meeting; according to the HPNPCT bylaws, “Meetings shall be held quarterly during the months of January, April, July and October, on the 4th Monday from 7 to 8:30pm.” Its date and agenda, which consisted almost entirely of the ADU issue, were publicized through the appropriate channels: the neighborhood group list and the HPNPCT group list.

Despite that, few supporters of reducing the lot size for ADUs attended the meeting. I heard only one person speak in favor of such. On the other hand, numerous stakeholders opposing such a change attended and spoke. When someone at the meeting proposed a vote, another attendee objected, stating that all the constituents were not in attendance. That raises the question, why weren’t they, considering that this was a regularly scheduled meeting with an advertised agenda?

Larry complained about the attendees of the meeting: “… the survey and its results were not discussed…. It was implied that it was simply an amateurish attempt to sway decision-makers at the city level. That ended the discussion on discerning the interests of stakeholders.… I daresay the makeup of attendees at the meeting was even less representative of the stakeholder demographic than the survey, but that didn’t stop the members from attempting to vote down any further consideration of allowing ADUs on smaller lots in Hyde Park in spite of the published agenda that stated no votes would be taken.” His conclusion? “The contact team mandate to work on behalf of all stakeholders is not a realistic expectation for any deliberative group in Hyde Park today.”

To the contrary, the original meeting notice and agenda contained nothing about a vote one way or the other, and the HPNPCT bylaws do not preclude a motion from the floor resulting in a vote. Moreover, no data were presented that the meeting attendance was not representative of the stakeholder demographic. Why then does Larry believe Hyde Park is full of supporters if they don’t show up? For him, the problem was the stakeholders who attended the meeting, not the stakeholders who couldn’t be bothered to attend!

All of this leads me to the question of just who are the stakeholders for this issue. Those who can’t be bothered to participate in the process must not believe they have much at stake. Hyde Park supporters of reduced ADU lot size either don’t exist or don’t care much. Democracy is a participatory process; and to quote from John Kerr’s final Pecan Press article, democracy works far better at the local level than at the state or federal level. Hyde Park is a forum in which individual opinion can count. It is an abuse of authority to use the interests of those who don’t care enough to participate to override the interests of those who do, as happened at the HPNPCT meeting when the chair refused a motion from the floor. Even more, it is grossly inappropriate to disparage the stakeholders who responded, who seem to be in the majority, and who are willing to assert their position.

–Lorre Weidlich


Larry Gilg responds:  

The reason I believe there is support among Hyde Park stakeholders for allowing ADUs to be constructed on lots between 5,750 and 7,000 sq. ft. is that I personally contacted all owners of such lots that I could identify. I wanted to make sure that there was good support among that group of neighbors before I even brought it up with the contact team.  I presented the results at the April Contact Team (CT) meeting.  Of the 292 properties south of 45th St. that have a size larger than 5,750 sq. ft. but smaller than 7,000 sq. ft., 140 were canvassed.  53 owners were spoken to, of whom 30 supported ADUs on lots smaller than 7,000 square feet, 17 needed more information, and 5 opposed.  Postcards were also mailed to 100 non-resident owners, 15 of whom responded, with 14 supporting a change in ADU regulations, 1 opposing. All of the owners received flyers with information about the proposal and the upcoming meetings. I judged that there was enough support to go forward.

The agenda of the July CT meeting in the Pecan Press and elsewhere did in fact say nothing about not voting on ADUs, as is correctly stated in the letter.  However, at the June HPNA meeting, there were a number of attendees who strongly urged that there be no vote on ADUs at the July CT meeting because “things were moving too fast.”  This was agreed to by Pete Gilcrease, CT chair.

In regard to the reference of one person who spoke out in support of ADUs at the July CT meeting, what occurred to me at the time was the courage she exhibited in asserting that support in the midst of the withering opposition being voiced by others.  It is not implausible to suggest that others may have shared that belief but not felt comfortable saying so.  It’s my hope that residents will continue to speak out for their beliefs, regardless of the stands taken by members of HPNA and CT, whose combined membership is something like only 6% of the adult residents of Hyde Park. Is having a subset of this already small number of residents come to a meeting to “assert their position” really the best we can do to discern the voice of the neighborhood?