Following the vote by the ZBA to approve Downton Walk on Monday , there was a troubling incident that speaks to the culture of the ZBA. As people were filing out, a woman pointed at ZBA member Adam McNeil who led the support for Downton Walk, and said “shame on you.” Her home abuts the proposed project. The board had approved a variance that put an eight foot fence only one foot from the edge of her house. As she explained to me later, aside from its intrusive proximity, this will block the sun from her home.
Mr. McNeil unleashed his unrestrained anger at this woman. He berated her about her lack of respect for what he characterized as the professional standards of the ZBA. Now on one level, his response was human. None of us enjoy being criticized, especially in such a devastating way. On the other hand, it demonstrated a profound lack of empathy and an utter lack of understanding of the effect the actions of this powerful body and his vote has on people’s lives.
I would also note that at an earlier meeting, Mr. McNeil used the privilege of being on this board to excoriate its Critics. Among the targets of his anger were the neighbors of the Moore Hall project who had criticized board member Gary Hasbrouck for going out for drinks with Sonny Bonacio, the Moore Hall developer, and his attorney, Michael Toohey immediately following a ZBA session that dealt with this project. Mr. McNeil expressed outrage that the public should attack Mr. Hasbrouck who devotes many, many hours to public service on the ZBA. I would ask Mr. McNeil to review the stories about ex-president Bill Clinton paying a social visit with Attorney General Loretta Lynch while the Justice Department was considering charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private server during her tenure as Secretary of State. As with Gary Hasbrouk’s social visit, no one knows what Lynch and Clinton discussed. The public attacks on their meeting were nevertheless explosive. Even Mrs. Clinton’s supporters considered the meeting of the two as ill advised.
Bear in mind, that the way the ZBA meetings are run, while the ZBA routinely carries on discussions directly with applicants, there is no vehicle for the people attacked by board members like Mr. McNeil to defend themselves. The “public comment” period involves the opportunity for people to address the ZBA but the board has the privilege of simply ignoring comments. When the board members do comment, the public has no opportunity follow up.
All of this simply points to how insular and insensitive many (not all) of this hugely powerful board are.