Sorry! An apology from Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) to humanity

I thought long and hard before posting this because of the increasing  anti-Muslim hysteria in general and anti-Syrian hysteria in particular.  The vast majority of the victims of ISIS are Muslims and many of those are Syrians but this does not seem to mean anything to many of our citizens.  Who knows what lists this post will put me on but in light of the terrible things done as a result of fear and xenophobia I felt compelled to offer this.

The Washington Post published a story with the heading: “CNN anchor blames French Muslims for failure to prevent attacks”

Yasser Louati is a highly respected French civil rights activist and attorney.  The Washington Post story properly takes CNN to task for its two reporters who badgered Louati relentlessly in an interview about why the Muslim community in France failed to prevent the awful massacres last week.

John Vause of CNN asked Mr. Louati, “Why is it that no one within the Muslim community there in France knew what these guys were up to?…Because it seems to me that this was a pretty big plan. Surely someone beyond the seven guys who’ve been killed over the last 48 hours would have to have known something and that was probably within the Muslim community but yet no one said anything.”

The parochialism and ignorance of Mr. Vause in this interview was just appalling.  Following Timothy McVeigh’s bombing in Oklahoma, no one asked any Christians on television to defend the failure of the Christian community to stop McVeigh. It apparently never occurred to Mr. Vause that he was expecting an individual who he assumed to be Muslim to explain how the entire French  Muslim  community couldn’t discover what the global intelligence community failed to detect.

Here is the link to the story and video

I am pleased to be able to republish a poem by the Syrian Kurdish poet Amir Darwish. A collection of Amir Darwish’s poetry can be found in the book Don’t Forget the Couscous.   

Sorry! An apology from Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) to humanity

We are sorry

for everything

That we have caused humanity to suffer from.

Sorry for Algebra and the letter X.

Sorry for all the words we throw at you;

Amber, candy, chemistry, cotton, giraffe, hazard,

Jar, jasmine, jumper, lemon, lime, lilac,

Oranges, sofa, scarlet, spinach,

Talisman, tangerine, tariff, traffic, tulips,

Mattress (yes mattress) and the massage you enjoy on it:

We are sorry for all of these.

Sorry that we replaced alcohol with coffee for Enlightenment philosophers.

Speaking of hot drinks,

We are sorry for the cappuccino the Turks brought over.

Sorry for the black Arabian race horses,

For the clock,

Math,

Parachutes.

 

Abdul in the US is sorry for what so and so did;

He does not know him but he is sorry anyway.

Sorry that we accompanied Columbus on his journey to the States.

And sorry for the Arab man with him

Who was the first to touch the shore and shout ‘Honolulu’

And named the place after him.

Sorry for the architecture in Spain and the Al Hambra palace there.

We apologize for churches in Seville

With their stars of David at the top that we built with our hands.

We say sorry for every number you use in your daily life from the 0 to the trillion.

Even Adnan the Yezidi (mistaken for a Muslim)

Is sorry for the actions of Abu whatever who beheads people in Syria.

 

Sorry for the mercury chloride that heals wounds,

Please give us some –

Because the guilt of initiating all of the above

Gives us a wound as big as this earth.

Sorry for the guitar that was played by Moriscos in Spain

To ease their pain when they were kicked out of their homes.

Sorry for the hookah as you sip on its lips And gaze into the moon hearing the Arabian Nay.

Sorry for cryptanalysis and the ability to analyze  information systems,

To think what is at the heart of the heart of the heart and bring it to the world.

Sorry for painting Grenada white to evade social hierarchy. Sorry for the stories in The Arabian Nights.

 

Every time we see a star, we remember to be sorry for

Astronomy.

 

We are sorry that Mo Farah claimed asylum here

And went on to become the British champion of the world.

Sorry for non-representational art,

Pattern and surface decoration.

We are sorry for all the food we brought over:

From tuna to chicken tikka masala,

Hummus,

Falafel,

Apricot,

Doner kebab

Right up to the shawarma roll.

And don’t forget the couscous.

If we forgot to apologize for something, never mind,

We are sorry for it without even knowing it.

Most of all we are sorry for Rumi’s love poems,

And we desperately echo one of them to you:

 

Oh Beloved, Take me.

Liberate my soul.

Fill me with your love and Release me from the two worlds.

If I set my heart on anything but you

Let fire burn me from inside.

Oh Beloved,

Take away what I want.

Take away what I do.

Take away what I need.

Take away everything

That takes me from you.

Please forgive us.

We are sorry and cannot be sorry enough today.

Moore Hall Application For Variances: Fatally Flawed

Next Monday night, November 23, the Zoning Board of Appeals is slated to address the application by Sonny Bonacio to convert Moore Hall into 53 “micro” apartments.  As many of you know, the City Council is scheduled to meet with the developer and the community in the neighborhood of Moore Hall on Saturday, December 5.  While it is hard to believe that the ZBA would proceed before the Council could make its own assessment of the situation, given the makeup of our land use boards it would not be altogether that surprising.  I have not been to a ZBA meeting but the experience at the city’s Planning Board does not breed confidence.  Scott Johnson’s long tenure as Mayor gave him the opportunity to appoint most of the members of these boards and he was none too subtle about placing the most reliable representatives of the real estate/construction/finance industry on them.

Still, the extraordinary mobilization opposing the project and its high profile due to the many signs on the East Side, the coverage in the local media, and the decision of the City Council to involve itself should pressure the ZBA to act more cautiously.

Of course, the real issue is the utter poverty of the proposal itself.  One of the central criteria the ZBA must use in deciding whether to grant the applicant its variances is whether the project would have a negative impact on the neighborhoods that it abuts.

The two variances Bonacio is seeking  are over parking and density.  City code requires that the developer allocate 1.5 parking spaces per unit and the dimensions of the parcel limit the number of units to 18. The developer seeks to reduce the required parking spaces to 1 space per unit and to increase the number of total units to 53.

In a meeting several of us had with Sonny Bonacio he made it clear that he will not budge on his proposal.  Sonny was charming but firm.  He argued that the inherent structure of the building makes any other design impractical and that the cost to do the conversion precludes reducing the number of units.

The central problem for the ZBA is that as a “non-conforming” property, most of the code requirements that insure a safe, attractive, and efficient project cannot be assumed.  The simple question then is, “how can one assess the impact of this project on the adjacent neighborhoods if many of the key elements of this project are unknown?”

Let’s consider some of these:

Parking

The variance being sought assumes that the parking lot currently contains 53 parking spaces.  This number does not stand up under the most cavalier review.  The fiction of this number is based on the fact that as a non-conforming parcel, the existing physical characteristics are grandfathered.  Therefore, the fact that this parking lot violates the city’s building codes does not necessarily mean that it must be modified.  [The following itemized problems with the lot have been documented in previous posts so you may want to skip these]

  1. None of the parking spaces meet the current code requirements for size dimensions. The purpose of this code is to minimize damage to cars that must navigate these parking spaces and to insure that in the event that someone must escape from a car in an emergency, egress from the vehicle will be easy.
  2. The driving lane between the rows of cars is required under city code to be 24’ wide. This is to insure that emergency vehicles can easily and quickly access the full lot and be able to operate the equipment in their vehicles quickly and easily. None of the lanes meets this code and one is less than 16’ in width.
  3. None of the parking spaces are currently designed for a handicapped car. The lot will require at least one such space and very possibly two.
  4. The lot is exposed to the elements so snow removal will be required. The design of the lot will have to address this and may require during the winter that certain areas be reserved to address this need.

This raises some fundamental issues about the quality and nature of this proposal.  One must surely ask, would it be appropriate to go forward with a project assuming such a lot?  I would go further and ask, would it even be ethical?

It is very possible that the issue of safety and liability may override the freedom of “non-conforming” characteristics.   Were this to happen, and it is reasonable to assume that it will, then the currently requested variance would be inadequate since the number of on site parking spaces would have to be reduced.  It begs reason that the Zoning Board of Appeals would consider the variance on parking before the actual final need could be determined.  There is also the issue of the density variance as it relates to parking which will be addressed later in this post.

Impact on Neighborhood

The current city code requires a setback of a total of 45 feet on both sides of a parcel.  The minimum for any individual side is 20 feet.  So, for example, one end might have a 20 foot setback and the other would have a 25 foot setback.  Setbacks are a very important element in our city code because they very much impact how the infrastructure of a project will affect the surrounding neighborhoods.  This is particularly acute when it comes to parking lots.  If you casually walk our city you will see that there is almost always a green buffer between the parking lots and the sidewalks or roads.  This is because eliminating this buffer makes for a very ugly and overwhelming wall of cars and concrete.

In the case of the Moore Hall project, the proposal does not include any setbacks.  In fact this raises serious questions about the safety of the property that abuts North Lane.  The cars will extend directly to the edge of the alley.  There will be no buffer.  As for the White Street side, the cars will press cheek by jowl against the sidewalk there.

There is also the issue of trash.  Fifty-three apartments will generate a great deal of trash.  How will it be managed?  Where will the storage bins be located?  How large will they be?  How will they be maintained?  It is important to note that the footprint of the building itself exceeds the city code.  It covers much of the parcel so there will be very little space to put trash receptacles.  Given that the only vehicular access will be in the rear of the building on North  Lane, the receptacles will have to be somehow placed there.  Most people are familiar with how residents of multi unit facilities like the one proposed can be careless in dealing with trash containers.  Will trash prove to be both an eye sore and a nose sore?  Given the fact that no code requirements must be met, this is also an unresolved issue.

There is of course the issue of the inconvenience for neighbors that the use of their street as an overload parking facility for this facility will entail.  I noticed only last week that much of the parking on White Street had been taken up by the annual leaf clean up event.

The Central Issue: Too BIG!

Central to all these issues is the variance on density.  This is not some tweak from the existing limit of 18 units.  The applicant wants to build an additional 35 units which would be  approximately triple the limit established by zoning.   Most of the problems identified above are directly related to the applicant’s effort to, in effect, jam fifty-three units in a parcel that the city’s standards would limit to 18.

To make this project work, if we accept Mr. Bonacio’s word, he must badly overcharge for the space the units would provide.  The rents the applicant claims they will charge (there is nothing that would require the applicant to hold to these numbers) per cubic foot (they will have 7.5’ ceilings) will not only greatly exceed the existing rentals in the neighborhood but would exceed the rental fees for other space the applicant currently rents in the city.  In fact, the Saratogian recently ran a story about rentals he is building in Glens Falls that will offer much higher quality space for the same or less money.

No one would quibble with the creativeness that Sonny Bonacio has shown in coming up with this plan.  The problem is that to make it work it grossly overreaches the capacity of both the building and the neighborhood.

It would be shocking if the ZBA were to approve these variances and their approval would set a dangerous precedent for other proposals that may come before them. This episode should be a teachable moment for this community about how important the appointments to our land use boards are.  Many of us believe that the city charter should be amended to require that the Mayor’s appointments should require the approval of the City Council.  These appointments should be a matter of a very public process in which the community gets to weigh in on the appointments to insure that the personal interests of land use board members do not conflict with their public duties.

 

News Articles Appear On Moore Hall

Several Articles Have Appeared In Local Newspapers:

Here is a link to the Saratogian article: Link To Saratogian

This article Is From The Gazette

Saratoga Springs neighbors oppose plan for ‘Pink Palace’

The former Moore Hall in Saratoga Springs, also known as the "Pink Palace," is pictured.

Photographer: Erica Miller
The former Moore Hall in Saratoga Springs, also known as the “Pink Palace,” is pictured.

    — Neighbors are petitioning against a plan to convert the former Moore Hall dormitory into workforce housing as the proposal heads to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals for a possible decision next week.

Bonacio Construction of Saratoga Springs is seeking zoning approval to renovate the building and convert the empty and deteriorating former Skidmore College property, commonly known as the “Pink Palace” for its colored stone exterior, into 53 apartments.

Bonacio will appear before the ZBA Monday night to continue a previous public hearing on requested minimum parking and minimum lot size variances. The board could make a decision that night, but isn’t required to do so.

Residents in the Union Avenue and White Street neighborhood are expected to turn out in force. Some 258 people had signed an online petition as of Wednesday afternoon and lawn signs saying “No Moore, No Way,” have popped up around the area.

“The community is eager to see this property revitalized, but the current proposal varies so extremely from the zoning regulations that it will introduce pedestrian and vehicle safety issues as well as strain the already limited street parking,” opponents said in a statement this week.

Moore Hall, which sits near the corner of Union Avenue and Circular Street, was built by Skidmore in 1957, when the college campus was located there.

The college used the building as a 135-room dorm until 2006, when it was sold to a developer who proposed tearing the building down and replacing it with three new condominium buildings. Those plans, however, never went forward, and Moore Hall has remained vacant until Bonacio Construction bought an option on it this year.

Bonacio Construction contends that the existing 54 parking spaces will be adequate for 53 apartments, though city zoning requires two parking spots per apartment. The developer also says there’s a need for affordable apartments near downtown.

Bonacio Construction President Sonny Bonacio did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Opponents in the neighborhood have also gone to the City Council, which is taking an interest despite the application pending before an appointed land use board.

“I don’t think it is appropriate for the City Council to interfere, but I’ve been contacted by a relatively large number of individuals who are concerned about the Moore Hall situation,” said Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen during Tuesday’s council meeting.

In the past month, the city Planning Board has given a favorable advisory opinion to the ZBA. Mayor Joanne Yepsen noted that even if the ZBA approves them, the plans would need a site plan review from the Planning Board and approval from the city’s Design Review Commission before any renovations could begin.

The zoning board meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

More Moore Hall Developments: Neighbors Score Victories at Tuesday Night’s City Council Meeting

At the Tuesday night City Council meeting, Commissioner Mathiesen laid out the general issues regarding the Moore Hall project.  He recommended that the Council have a workshop to seek input from the neighbors and the developer.  Interestingly, it was John Franck who offered that it be done in the neighborhood.  He noted that during administration of Val Keehn, the Council had a number of meetings in different neighborhoods in the city.  There was no opposition to having the meeting, and it was tentatively scheduled for the morning of the first Saturday in December .  That would be December 5th.  Some discussion was had over where to meet in the neighborhood and it was suggested that the Council contact Empire State College about a meeting space.

The Zoning Board of Appeals has the Moore Hall project on their agenda for next Monday night.  One would think that they would put off action until the City Council meets with the community.  Only time will tell.

In an important development, the planning staff has determined that the project requires site plan review and approval by the Design Review Board.   The attorney for Bonacio/Higgins, Michael Toohey, had told the Planning Board that because it was a non-conforming structure, it was not subject to site plan review or DRC review.  Apparently his position did not prevail.

The City Council discussion is worth checking out.  Commissioner Mathiesen made a strong argument for the need for the Council to hear the concerns of the neighbors about this important high profile piece of property.  Here is a link to the discussion from the City website.

Link To Council Meeting Video

Select the Public Safety part of the meeting on the left and move the timer to the 19 minute point.

 

Moore Hall Update

At Monday’s City Council agenda meeting Commissioner Chris Mathiesen announced he was putting on his Tuesday night agenda a proposal to have a special workshop on the Moore Hall conversion.  He was supported by Michele Madigan.  Madigan noted that the Zoning Board of Appeals would be meeting on the following Monday to review the project so it would be important to have the event as soon as possible.  Mayor Yepsen and Commissioner Franck were not at the meeting.  Skip Scirocco offered no opposition.

I want to thank the many people who apparently emailed the Council members over the weekend urging support for Commissioner Mathiesen.

All of the original signs (48) opposing the Moore Hall conversion were picked up within days so the group has printed another batch.  A drive through the neighborhoods is quite an eye opener.

A banner has been positioned in front of Moore Hall.

Banner

The petition drive continues.  If you want to sign the on-line petition you can do so here.

 Petition Link

 

Great Article By Dennis Yusko of the Times Union Regarding Saratoga PAC and Chamber of Commerce Director, Todd Shimkus

From Dennis Yusko

Saratoga Springs

A bruising election season may not have changed the makeup of the City Council, but it appears to have created a wedge of distrust among business leaders that formed a political action committee and City Council members who were targeted for defeat.

Formed in June, the Saratoga PAC raised more than $56,000 in campaign contributions and endorsed five contested candidates for election. Despite touting their views at public events and on websites, only one of its favored candidates won.

“We were obviously disappointed by the results, but not at all surprised,” said Robert Manz, chairman of Saratoga PAC and COO of D.A. Collins construction company. He said the PAC was “transitioning” to advocacy on a set of issues.

But it’s unclear how much backing PAC members will receive from the five-member City Council after a political season in which some the PAC worked to defeat — Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen — not only survived, but won by larger margins than two years ago. Mathiesen, a Democrat who has led the police and fire departments for four years, said Friday that the PAC had “overplayed its hand” in the campaign.

This is a TU+ story. Click for more information.

“The people who make up the PAC already have an awful lot of influence in city government,” Mathiesen said. “The results show that Saratogians don’t want an entity like that to have too much power.”

One issue that has arisen in the wake of the elections is what role Todd Shimkus, the president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, played in Saratoga PAC. The chamber claims hundreds of members who pay annual dues, and this year received $375,000 in taxpayer money from Saratoga County, up from $346,500 in 2014. Some chamber members accuse Shimkus of planning strategy for Saratoga PAC and writing blogs on its website.

One member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, discovered Shimkus’ name as an author of blogs in the domain history of the PAC’s website. Shimkus’ name was removed from the WordPress index shortly after a news website, Saratoga Grid, reported its presence. The chamber member said Shimkus had come out very strongly for projects without discussing them among members.

Shimkus, 48, directed questions about his involvement with the PAC to Manz. He said the person who created the PAC’s website accidently included Shimkus’ email address and forgot to delete it, but Shimkus did not write any of the PAC’s mailings or website postings. He said the PAC’s “media vendors” would be identified in its next filing with the Board of Elections.

Saratoga PAC joined the chamber when it formed, and its board members work for companies that are members, Manz said. He said Shimkus offered advice and counsel to the PAC whenever asked. “The chamber helped us as a startup to make some connections,” Manz said. “Todd Shimkus connected us with some people to help get a website established.”

Neither Shimkus nor Manz would address if chamber resources were used. Shimkus did not provide input on endorsing candidates, Manz said.

Shimkus worked with political PACs while employed by the Adirondack Regional Chamber and North Central Massachusetts Chamber, according to Manz and news reports. Shimkus succeeded Joseph Dalton as president of the Saratoga chamberfive years ago.

Mathiesen, a dentist who has been a chamber member for 35 years, said it made a mistake when it hired Shimkus as its director. “I think he is a divisive part of this community, and I have been very disappointed with some of the stances he has taken and his attempt to mischaracterize my position on a variety of issues,” Mathiesen said.

Shimkus said the chamber’s history of success in promoting the area “suggests that divisive is not a word that appropriately captures the great work we do.”

“The chamber is a visible and vocal advocate for our members and the communities we serve,” Shimkus said. “We support initiatives and efforts that we believe will grow our economy and improve our quality of life.”

Yepsen said Friday that while the chamber is responsible for many events that create a positive economic climate, “helping to create the Saratoga PAC does not fall in line with this mission.”

Among those serving on the Saratoga PAC board are Manz, developer Sonny BonacioGary Dake, the president of Stewart’s Shops, and Cindy Hollowood, owner of the Holiday Inn. The PAC is registered as an independent expenditure committee, and, as such, can accept unlimited contributions and spend without limits. The PAC spent more than $16,000 in contributions through early October, according to the state Board of Elections.

Manz said it will now work to support issues: Improving infrastructure, revitalizing South Broadway, making streets safer, reducing panhandling and building support for a destination resort at Saratoga National Golf Club.