Saturday, January 31, 2015

Guest Editorial: Sullivan Hardware Threats Against City And Neighbor Remonstrators

The following is an editorial offered by neighborhood activist Clark Kahlo in response to sharp media and community reaction against the successful remonstrance of neighbor activists to a zoning variance requested by Sullivan Hardware's:

Following the Board of Zoning Appeal's December 16th unanimous vote to deny its four requested variances, Sullivan Hardware immediately threatened to close its retail operation at 49th and Pennsylvania. There was also a threat to move the Do It Best Corporation's bi-annual convention away from Indianapolis.

These are bogus threats to the community in response to the BZA's denial of variances. They're intended to pressure elected city officials and to leverage public-sector appeasements.

Regarding the threat to close his store, Sullivan profits from a strong customer base of both contractors serving the residential neighborhood and from nearby residents. They enjoy the convenience of easy access for hardware and landscape goods. Sullivan's site needs were readily accommodated by the City in 1994 when he received variances to build the store. Later, In 2009, Sullivan sought and received additional variances to build a greenhouse along with additional parking variances. Sullivan operates on a site which has worked well for them for 20 years with the aid of the City's and the BZA's two previous sets of variance approvals.

Regarding the claim that the Ft. Wayne based Do It Best Corporation is "so irritated by the city's ruling that it is considering moving its bi-annual retailers convention away from Indianapolis" (a claim in a supporter's broadcast email), this is news to company officials. Actually, its official corporate response is that: "this is a local matter between Pat Sullivan and the City of Indianapolis" (email from a Do It Best communications officer).

As the credibility of its two threats against the City and community continues to erode via proof-to-the-contrary, the Sullivan Hardware camp still has its "mob mentality" to apply against the individual remonstrators and, to a lesser extent, the BZA. Following the BZA's denial, Sullivan's angry, but uninformed, supporters unleashed a cascade of personal attacks on the several remonstrators via the social media and comment websites. Several news organizations (WTHR-13, Indianapolis Star, WIBC) fanned the flames with stunningly one-sided "news reports" and commentary. As for the BZA, which actually denied the variances, and the city's professional planning staff which recommended denial on 3 of the 4 variance requests, the pro-Sullivan mob and the media weren't nearly as condemning or insulting.

Sullivan Hardware also intimated that it might appeal the BZA's decision in court. However, this remains a remote possibility -- in effect, another empty threat -- because Sullivan knows that it has no substantive case in either the facts or the law (even in our legal system which heavily favors property and commerce over the interests of people, communities, and nature).

It's not rare for developers and business operators to make personal threats against neighborhood remonstrators. We saw this last year when the Browning-Sheehan group sued two remonstrators for opposing its massive project which would redevelop several tracts in Broad Ripple with a Whole Foods grocery and residential units. Their claimed damages, allegedly resulting from appeal litigation delay, were claimed to be in excess of $1 million. Their claim and lawsuit went nowhere because they had no legal merit. The developers' attorneys knew the law and their suit was intended only to intimidate and punish. These kinds of lawsuits are generally called SLAPP suits-- Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Indiana law does not favor them. (Whole Foods has withdrawn its intent -- reported by others, but never confirmed by the company -- to put a store in Broad Ripple. That plan was likely a ruse from the start and intended only to help the developers sell the project to the public and to the Metropolitan Development Commission)

Another bullying tactic is to chill neighbor remonstrance by sending a threatening personal letter, as Patachou's Martha Hoover did in 2009 when she sought variances for her new and expanded restaurants at 49th and Pennsylvania. In her letter, Ms. Hoover ominously warned a near-neighbor that she was an attorney and former deputy prosecutor, and demanded that they cease their remonstrance against her variance petition.

Former Nuvo Newsweekly editor Harrison Uhlmann wrote an accompanying essay for former mayor Bill Hudnut's 1995 book The Hudnut Years: 1976 to 1981. He noted that Hudnut was mayor of "a city that has no tradition or talent for public debate. Once the leaders of the community set a priority or start an initiative, the opposition is expected to retire in silence." Fortunately, public participation, including the statutory right of zoning remonstrance, remains a protected part of our democracy, albeit one increasingly weakened by the juggernaut Corporate State. However, neighborhood remonstrators are still subject to threat, intimidation, and personal attack by commercial interests and their friends.

As we've seen in the Sullivan Hardware variance petition, on the relatively rare occasions when insatiable commercial interests are successfully resisted by neighbors via the long-established zoning review process, those interests can become irate, cry foul, and harangue elected officials in private meetings with threats to close stores, pull conventions, and anything else they can think of to gain private advantage at the expense of the public.


Anonymous said...

Is Clark Kahlo related to the Kahlo family that sold Sullivan the land for its hardware store?

That used to be Kahlo Marathon.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kahlo is one person I trust! His family has been in the area for quite a while.

Gary R. Welsh said...

It is my understanding Clark is not related to the people who owned the former gas station at that site.

Anonymous said...

Clarke's definition of "threat" is about as bad as his understanding of zoning law. The latter is surprising, if only because he's been before the BZA and MDC more than anyone in the room except the flag.

Anonymous said...

I no longer live in Meridian Kessler, I may have shopped Sullivan's stores maybe several times in the last few years, and I've had opportunity to hear Mr. Sullivan on the radio so perhaps my comments bears less weight than those who consistently shop the hardware stores and know or are close to Mr. Sullivan.

All that said, the more I read and hear about this M/K store zoning situation, the less I care for Mr. Sullivan's attitude and the content of his oratory about the whole situation. For me, Sullivan lost more than the zoning issue: he lost a fairly positive business image I formerly held about him and his retail stores due to his recent words and actions.

Mr. Kahlo's guest piece hits every point with what I see of the situation as accurate and fairly balanced.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kahlo has worked tirelessly on behalf of many worthwhile issues in this city, particularly environmental issues. Every community needs passionate individuals like him committed to righting wrongs.
Sometines-the anger and fiery passion that comes with fighting battles can become misplaced.
Sometimes- instead of charging forth with weapons drawn, it is best to hold one's fire. Mr. Kahlo would do well to take a step back, breathe deeply and set aside time to re-think the wisdom of waging war when negotiating a treaty might be the best course of action for all.
Whether Mr. Kahlo's claims of threats against him are wholly true or somewhat exaggerated, I don't know. What I do know with certainty is that about 800 comments attached to a news story about Sullivans, gave indication that the majority of neighbors at its 49th &Penn location don't care if pots of beautiful flowers are displayed in the parking lot because that parcel of land won't allow for them to be displayed elsewhere. The fragrance and sight of Christmas greenery are pleasant reminders of the season. That bags of salt or mulch must be mixed in with these attractive products are acceptable to area neighbors-with the exception of Mr. Kahlo and one or two others.
What Mr. Kahlo don't seem to understand is that an ordinance precluding "outdoor storage" was designed to protect neighbors from an unsightly
jumbled mess of some kind. If Sullivan's imposed that upon its neighbors, there would have been 800 residents rallying behind Mr. Kahlo. If Pat Sullivan created ill will through his business practices which would have the majority of residents hoping and praying for some means of ridding themselves of its presence, they would be lauding Kahlo.The truth is, the benefits offered to area residents by having Sullivans in the neighborhood, far outweigh the downsides of a few less parking spaces. The truth is, that without the ability to use all available space on that tight parcel of land at 49th &Penn, Sullivans can't maintain their business model and sustain its profitability. Pat Sullivan has made sound business decisions in order to compete against big box chain stores. He has to make other decisions on whether he can afford to stay where he is with the restrictions placed upon his enterprise, or whether a change of location is now forced upon him due to zoning restrictions.
Consideration of a new business location is not an idle "threat" made by Sullivans. The prospect of a move would be costly and time consuming, but necessary to remain profitable. A move has only become a serious consideration since Kahlo and friends got the zoning decision they wanted. With victory in hand, Kahlo won't be content. He must now rail against the hundreds and perhaps thousands who understand the benefit of having Sulllivans in the neighborhood is a much greater alternative to the blighted vacant lot that was once forced upon residents.If Kahlo can stop ongoing battle plans and stop and smell the flowers maybe he will come to understand why his angry vitriol against a pleasant, community minded business man does not receive the support he desperately seeks.

Anonymous said...

For those who know, the Sullivans have relocated or closed other stores. This writer encourages the city to call his bluff & report back in a couple years.

On another note, for those who know, does Mr. Kahlo live up to the standards he assert for others?

Anonymous said...

Don't blame Sullivan; blame Indy. In Indianapolis, the business culture has long required that when a company doesn't get its way, it makes economic threats.

Sullivan probably has business friends who put these ideas in his head.

By the way, the former Shell in Broad Ripple is gone, and the new construction is occurring, right now.

Anonymous said...

The last thing Clarke didn't oppose being built was a tree, and then only because it was planted from seed and had a note from its mother.

Flogger said...

Former Nuvo Newsweekly editor Harrison Uhlmann wrote an accompanying essay for former mayor Bill Hudnut's 1995 book The Hudnut Years: 1976 to 1981. He noted that Hudnut was mayor of "a city that has no tradition or talent for public debate. Once the leaders of the community set a priority or start an initiative, the opposition is expected to retire in silence."

The above statement is oh so true. We have witnessed this again and again, especially as it relates to the easily over a Billion Dollars of tax dollars funneled to the Pacers and Colts. The Mega-Media in Indianapolis once they receive their prepared script bombard us with one sided slanted stories.

Anonymous said...

I live in Meridian Kessler. I enjoy the convenience of having Sullivan's close by as do many in the area. He's a local business owner who deserves neighborhood support. That being said, everyone has neighbors, and being a good neighbor is a two-way street.

Sullivan and his neighbors need to sit down, hammer out an agreement, and bring that back to the City. Sullivan made a bunch of promises he has not lived up to. Parking is an issue, so is that sidewalk along 49th Street he never built. Landscaping and/or decorative fencing to appropriately screen his business from residential neighbors, especially that greenhouse he built feet away from the street. Who wouldn't be pissed as hell if their neighbor built something like that greenhouse right up to the property line with no buffer? Sullivan needs to man up and quit the game playing. And his residential neighbors need to understand this is a thriving commercial node that is never going away. It's been a commercial node for decades. Deal with it or move somewhere else.

Matt Tully: you are a jerk. Rather than using your position to restart a reasonable conversation among neighbors, you took to the bully pulpit, presented one side of the story, and accomplished nothing other than throw gas onto the fire and get Sullivan a free pass from City government. I'd like to know how much you got paid under the table to accomplish this. Crummy articles such as yours are the reason I don't subscribe to the Star any more.

Anonymous said...

Gary, this is a bit off topic: what happened to Martha Hoover's half million dollar claim against the City for flood damage to Petite Chou in Broad Ripple? You may recall several years ago a flood gate along the White River was vandalized and closed, and during a summer downpour storm water was sent surging into Westfield Blvd. Several businesses 1-2 blocks east of Hoover's had their floors swamped by a few inches of water. The City quickly paid their 5-10k damage claims.

After the flood Hoover shut down her business for several months while contractors gutted the building, floor to ceiling, and replaced everything new. Seems a bit extreme for a few inches of water, doesn't it? We felt it was an attempt to rebuild the restaurant at the expense of taxpayers and/or insurance. We haven't been back to Petite Chou since, which is a shame because they used to have good food.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I'm not sure how it turned out. The City paid out $82,000 to settle the other injured business owners, but Ms. Hoover was holding out, claiming $650,000 in damages. Never let a good crisis go to waste.

LamLawIndy said...

Anon 10:12 is correct: Sullivan will close the store rather than be saddled with a location with negative cash flow.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The suggestion Sullivan can't make money at this location if he's not allowed to have the parking lot cluttered with merchandise is so absurd on its face that it's not even worthy of discussion.

Anonymous said...

They just had a "caller" on the radio show ask about this situation. Some backpedaling and nothing other than "I don't even know this guy". It must be the state legislators trying to hold down the small ah shucks business guy, right? Act like every other small business and stop thinking your special, Pat.