Saturday, August 06, 2011

Chase-Community Compact needed

Here is my Hillsdale News commentary on the unfolding story about JPMorgan Chase's proposal to build a branch in Hillsdale. For the story itself, go to

Communication is equal parts sharing of views, attentive listening and keeping an open mind.

But first you have to get everyone in the same room.

And if agreement is the objective, they need to be willing to meet again and again.

That desperately needs to happen here in Hillsdale as sides line up over Chase Bank's push to put a branch on the old gas station site next to Baskin Robbins.

The atmospherics surrounding Chase's surprising filing for City approval is already tense, to say the least.

We may disagree about the bank's plans, but the need for harmony and progress is such that we can't disagree over the need to communicate.

As things stand now, the community has less than two weeks to comment to the City about the proposal - this in a month when neither business nor neighborhood associations meet.

An "emergency" neighborhood association meeting has been called for Tuesday, August 9 at 6 p.m. at the Watershed building.

That's a beginning. Chase officials, to their credit, plan to attend to answer questions.

I believe they need to do more than that.

I have a proposal which I've shared with some members of the Hillsdale Main Street Board. It doesn't pretend to be a silver bullet, but it might provide a framework for a solution, better use of the lot, an attractive building and a stronger community.

Call it "The Chase/HIllsdale Community Compact plan.

Under the plan, Chase would extend the comment period until bank officials and community members can forge a partnership. The Chase-Community partners would jointly draft the compact, a document that identifies shared objectives and pledges to meet them.

After that, the representative compact group would come up with an agreed upon site design and structure. The discussion leading up to the compact should include, but not be limited to: mixed use building occupancy, more than one story, transit-pedestrian orientation, affordable housing, sustainability, community needs (meeting room, financial support, gathering places), architectural integration with adjacent properties, undergrounding utilities and streetscape aesthetics, local lending and on-going Main Street involvement and cooperation.

I'm sure others will add to the list.

After the inevitable give and take of next Tuesday's meeting, the essential next step should be to establish a framework for moving forward.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

A Deletion, an Apology and a Compact

Until now I have never killed off a Red Electric post. Today I deleted one I put up a couple of days ago.

It had to do with Chase Bank’s efforts to put a branch in Hillsdale. The surprise (some would say “shock”) of Chase’s intentions has brought out the worst in a lot of us in this small community.

In my anger I compared the appearance of the proposed bank to an image of a concentration camp photo. Now I understand why some sites simply don’t accept comments with Nazi references. For many, the pain and emotion aroused simply overwhelm their comprehension of whatever point the writer is trying to make.

For some dear friends, that happened with my post, and I apologize for the pain I caused.

I also made a mistake that I have criticized others for. I got trapped in an inappropriate metaphor. In this case, I relied on “David and Goliath.”

Lazily, I portrayed multi-national Chase as Goliath and, of course, our little Hillsdale community as David.

Worse than being predictable, the metaphor leads inevitably to confrontation and death.

That’s obviously not where I want this to go.

What’s needed here in Hillsdale is quite the opposite. Chase and this community need to sit down together and come up with a mutually acceptable plan for the bank’s new branch.

If that happens, I actually believe good can come from this seeming crisis. But for that collaboration to happen, major change is needed. In the case of Chase, it may even be institutional change.

Change, as they say, also needs to begin with me. I hope this post reflects that. And I dare say it needs to begin with my Hillsdale friends and neighbors who are upset with Chase and me and a number of others. How quickly we manufacture adversaries!

So I have proposed since I posted my “David and Goliath” essay that community leaders and Chase officials forge something called the “Chase/Hillsdale Community Compact.” The compact would lay out mutually-arrived-at objectives and describe an action plan for achieving them.

Unless there is a mutual willingness to come to an agreement, we will all lose. Chase will lose business by simply localizing its tarnished national reputation. Hillsdale will lose the opportunity to advance improvements and values identified in the numerous plans and studies conducted here in the past two decades.

I’ve concluded that the way to bring pressure on Chase and the community is to tell the story of what happens here. Will it be a story of “triumph” or “tragedy”?

I plan to tell that story as best I can — both here and in The Hillsdale News.

My great regret is that I got off to such a divisive and emotion-laden start.

As always, we proceed from here and now.

P.S. The Hillsdale Neighborhood Association has called an "emergency" meeting for Tuesday, August 9, at 6 p.m. to discuss the Chase matter. The meeting is at the Watershed Building at Bertha Court and Capitol Highway. The public is welcome.

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