P&Z commissioner resigns

Failure to review Cornerstone’s CUP leads to lack of trust

Jim Cave works at his radiator shop Thursday afternoon. His business has been plagued with problems resulting from vagrants attracted to nearby Cornerstone Mission.

Jim Cave works at his radiator shop Thursday afternoon. His business has been plagued with problems resulting from vagrants attracted to nearby Cornerstone Mission.

Jim Cave was tired of homeless people urinating on his property. For years they had trespassed, vandalized and broken into his radiator shop on Evans Street, and he was sick of it.

For five years, the men's shelter up the street had been drawing transients to the area, and he just wanted someone from the city to take a look at it.

But when he approached Developmental Services Director Gary Jeppson in January to ask why his department hadn't conducted an annual review on the permit, which allowed Cornerstone Mission to house so many vagrants, he said Jeppson responded by asking him if he knew anything about another radiator shop in Show Low that had been caught "ice picking radiators."

"He basically questioned my honesty and integrity by doing that," Cave said. "He's basically telling me 'Hey, you're not allowed to ask that.'"

Jeppson remembers sharing the story with Cave, but said he meant to tell the story as a joke, not a threat.

"He asked why the annual reviews hadn't been done on the Cornerstone Mission, and I said 'I'm sorry, but it was before my time,'" Jeppson said.

Threat or not, it was the primary reason Cave resigned after six years on the Planning and Zoning Commission, according to the letter he submitted to Chairwoman Dorian Trahan on Tuesday. Citing the way his own complaints were handled by city staff over a period of five years, Cave said he felt he could no longer trust them to accurately represent the public when bringing issues before the commission.

Cave's troubles began in 2003 when Cornerstone, the homeless shelter at 3049 Sycamore Ave., applied for and received a conditional-use permit that allowed it to operate as a soup kitchen, housing up to 30 homeless men at a time, up from 10.

Cave's radiator shop operates only a few hundred feet from Cornerstone. He and other area business owners had already had ongoing problems with Cornerstone's residents. He said the police were contacted frequently at first, but were often reluctant to arrest anyone.

"We got to where we don't even call the police unless it's really bad," Cave said.

That year, Cave went before the City Council with three other business owners to explain their troubles and to protest Cornerstone's CUP application.

"They promised us there would be absolutely zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol," Cave said. "That, to my knowledge, has never happened."

Over the next five years, Cave occasionally complained about Cornerstone, but he never formally brought it up during P&Z meetings, feeling it was a conflict of interest.

He finally decided to speak out after CUPs were brought up earlier this year as a means of "bridging the gap" between what is allowed to be built in the C-1 and C-2 commercial zoning districts.

During the Jan. 21 Council meeting, Cave listened to the discussion over the Neighborhood Convenience zoning ordinance. Then, he said, a red flag went up.

"When I heard (Councilman Tom Spear) talk about how great the CUPs were, I said, 'Whoa, that's enough,'" Cave said. "The staff acted like it was no big deal, just a minor thing, and we were still having problems."

He went to the Developmental Services building the next day to issue a formal complaint about Cornerstone, only to find there were no official complaint forms. Instead, he spent an hour and a half explaining his grievance with Planning Director Tom Duranceau in his office, requesting he investigate police calls made on Cornerstone and interview other local business owners about their problems with the homeless shelter.

"He told me, 'We'll look into this and we'll get back to you,'" Cave said. "That was the last I'd heard of it."

When Cave received his P&Z packet for the Feb. 12 meeting, he saw that four CUPs were up for review, the Cornerstone Mission among them. But there was a noticeable omission.

"There was nothing in there about my complaint, and they were just going to whitewash it," he said.

It was the last straw for Cave, who announced his intention to resign during last week's City Council meeting, citing his problems in getting city staff to respond to his complaints and Jeppson's Show Low story as the primary causes.

Five days later, he received a full report on Cornerstone's CUP from Duranceau, complaints and all, with the additional assurance that a public hearing would be conducted by P&Z at 6 p.m. April 8. He also received a written apology from Jeppson March 10, the day before his resignation.

But it was a Pyrrhic victory for Cave, whose trust in city staff had already been stressed to the breaking point.

"After I was treated like this, I can never trust them again," he said.

"I don't know if what they're telling us is how it is or just what they want us to think."