Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What is the war in Sri Lanka about?

What is the war in Sri Lanka about? 


Time magazine recently named musician M.I.A. to its annual list of the world's 100 most influential people. You can find her in the artists/entertainers section between Rush Limbaugh and the inventors of Grand Theft Auto; the game, not the felony. 


M.I.A.'s appearance in Time was surprising on many levels. 


I mean, Time magazine still publishes? Who knew? (Note: the original joke was "Time magazine still publishes? I didn't realize there were enough octogenarians around to keep it in business." I removed that joke after I read it over the phone to my 38-year-old BFF reacted with a defensive "Hey, I subscribe to Time!" Sorry. I was just kidding, honest.) 


M.I.A.'s inclusion also surprised me because she hasn't achieved Limbaugh-like, or even Grand Theft Automotive-levels of cultural ubiquity.  

She's a critics' darling, which is a polite way of saying she doesn't sell especially well. She's probably more famous for singing at this year's Grammy ceremony in a see-through outfit which showed-off her nine-months pregnant-belly than she is for her music.  

Perceptual Painters: The Collective

 Impessionism with a new twist

By Judit Trunkos

City Art’s new show Perceptual Painters: The Collective  features oil paintings by a group of artists who have put a new spin on Impressionism. Artists Dave Campbell, Matt Klos, John Lee, Aaron Lubrick, Scott Noel, Brian Rego, and Andrew Patterson-Tutschka are all connected through their affiliation with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts represent a new direction in Impressionism.

Impressionism is an easily recognizable style, typified by visible brush strokes, open compositions, emphasis on changing light or movement, ordinary subject matters and unusual visual angles. Capturing ordinary moments in the changing light has been the focus of painters since the birth of the style in the late 18th Century. Moving the canvas outdoors and painting without the stable light conditions of an indoor studio has also inspired this style; a style in which the details and immitation of the subject matter was no longer the ultimate goal.

While the old masters such as Monet, Manet, and Pissaro used lighter colors and allowed the paintings to blur up close, the more contemporary painters of this style, such as the artists participating in this show, tend to paint clearer images and use darker colors if necessary.The subject matters are contemporary and more ordinary as well. During Impressionism’s prime, the masters were inclined to focus on magical moments such as sunsets. By contrast, members of  Perceptual Painters: The Collective choose less magistic moments to capture: a dark room in an apartment or someone’s messy and dirty basement can easily be the subject of the paintings.

Andrew Patterson-Tutschka’s Between our Neighbourhood illustrates the new direction in this mood-based painting style, captured by simply driving on the highway towards Columbia and capturing the tallest downtown buildings. It is not a complicated painting, does not need years of studies in art history.  It is merely a mood that the driver was in one day, while he was driving to Columbia. And that is the most fascinating about these paintings. Looking at them, the artist provides a visual aid to a mood or feeling or sometimes just describes a second in our fast lives. 

The exhibit will continue through June 27, 2009.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Closed door deals in Five Points construction project

City delays vote, ousts opposing zoning official

Editorial by Paul Blake

There is no need for citizens to attend a public hearing at the Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on May 12; the decision to build a proposed Walgreen's store has already been made and a longtime zoning official was quietly ushered out of the equation to make sure it all goes as planned.

Citizens who showed up to protest the development may recall being turned away at the April 14 BoZA hearing when an attorney for H.R. Developers asked for a deferral on their case. H.R. Developers is spearheading development on the former Kenny's Auto site in Five Points and currently owns the land. Attorney Robert Fuller stated that H.R.’s principle attorney, Camden Lewis, had "a conflict in Charleston today and is not present." H.R. president, Stan Harpe was also "out of town," Fuller said.

Board member, Chris Barczack, motioned to the deny the request for deferral citing the fact that Camden Lewis wasn't listed on the application and that Fuller, himself, was listed as the only registered agent on the H.R. application. Fuller has been representing the company in front of the board for months. After some back and forth, the board voted Barczack's motion down and the citizens who had amassed there to protest filed out of the chamber.

It sounds pretty bubble gum on the surface, until you consider a few key facts. Chris Barczack, known to be tough on developers and who had serious questions about the Walgreen's project, had not been reappointed by city officials to serve on the board for another term (despite five years of service and a desire to remain as a sitting board member). The April 14 BoZA hearing was Barczack's last meeting, thus he won't be present for the May 12 vote on the project.

One might also note that Stan Harpe and his associates have been in high level talks with city officials since at least 2007, have sunk millions of dollars into a property that has so far only grown weeds and have seen the Five Points Association (FPA) petition the city to create new zoning classifications specifically for large scale Five Points development –the Walgreen's projects MX-1 zoning category didn't exist until the FPA began pushing for it in 2005 (it was approved by unanimous vote last year). One might further note that H.R. Developers bought the Kenny's site on April 10, 2007; nearly two years to the day from the April 14 zoning hearing. Yet, after investing all that time, money and effort, Stan Harpe happens to be out of town when it comes time for an important BoZA vote? Suddenly a key H.R. Developers attorney takes a day trip to Charleston in the middle of the week? ...Or did he?

According to Camden Lewis, the absent attorney in question, he wasn't even aware of the zoning meeting on April 14. He said he had been in Lynchburg, Va. watching baseball for four days that week. And the fact that Fuller couldn't answer the board's question regarding the exact date when H.R. Developers retained Lewis as counsel isn't necessarily a big deal; Lewis doesn't remember when he was retained, either. When City Paper spoke to Lewis by phone on April 24, he was friendly and was happy to talk about H.R. Developers, whom he described as "friends of mine." He also thanked City Paper for letting him know about the new May 12 hearing date. He never mentioned Charleston.

Does this sound like someone that had something very important to offer at the zoning hearing? Or, was Fuller instructed to intentionally namedrop Lewis in order to delay the vote so it will pass without Barczack there to ask questions? To say nothing of the frustrated citizens who were turned away; some of whom may not be able to return to voice concern over the project.

Despite his motion being shot down, both Barczack and board member, Patrick Hubbard, tried to get the public on the record on April 14, to no avail.

"I think we owe it to the public for at least a comment or a question," Barczack said. "There are what? Twenty-five people out there?"

"We also owe it to the public to follow procedure and rules of order," BoZA Chairwoman, Elizabeth Webber-Akre interjected.

When Barczack made a further comment about the developer's last-minute deferral, Webber-Akre sighed audibly into her microphone. "With all due respect, Mr. Barczack, most deferral requests that we get are last minute," she said. "There is an unforeseen conflict and they typically occur just like this when we are here for the regularly scheduled hearing."

"With all due respect," Barczack countered, "the applicant knew exactly when this meeting was, scheduled themselves and subjected the public to take their time off and now at the last minute is canceling."

"But the primary function of this board is to hear the applicant and the applicants application," Webber-Akre replied.

"The applicant," Barczack said, nodding toward Fuller, "is here today."

Shortly thereafter, the board agreed to defer the H.R. Developers application until May 12, by a vote of 6-1.

Barczack, so far, has been the only zoning official to vote based on the guidelines presented in the Five Points master plan, developed by Quackenbush Architects and Planners and the FPA. To date, the merchant's association has spent tens of thousands of dollars to develop the master plan and untold man-hours selling it to city hall and defending it in neighborhood meetings. So how do they feel about the Walgreen's project? After all, what would a closed-door real estate deal in Five Points be without the FPA? That's like sunburn with no itch, a crowded elevator with no fart.

Well, never fear: the week following the April 14 BoZA deferral, representatives of the FPA quietly met with H.R. Developers. (Strangely, the developers were in town and cleared their schedules for that meeting.) The association then conducted a board member vote endorsing the Walgreen's project, despite the structure being 40 percent larger than the guidelines they set forth in the master plan, despite an unassuming Rite Aid two blocks from the proposed site and despite the fact that an oversized corporate drug mart is anything but "local",  "funky" or "eclectic." Former FPA president and Future Five development mastermind, Dennis Hiltner, and former city councilwoman, Anne Sinclair, also attended the closed-door board meeting.

Why did H.R. wait until the week of April 20- the week after their April 14 BoZA hearing- to schedule a summit meeting and vote with the FPA to shore up support? Wouldn't they have wanted that cheerleading section at the original hearing? Unless they had planned to miss the April 14 meeting all along and were laying out their plan of action for May 12. And if that's the case, who else in the room at that FPA meeting was in on it?

But, FPA support or no, with Barczack out of the way for the first time in five years, the deal is as good as done.

"I have not received an explanation on why I was not re-appointed," Barczack told City Paper. "I did have a reputation of occasionally voting against both the prevailing opinion of the board and staff recommendations.  It is unfortunate that a healthy debate of issues is not encouraged."

It's a shame that zoning officials can't be elected. Instead, they're hand-picked by development friendly city council members-one of whom, Daniel Rickenmann, received campaign donations from a fundraising party Stan Harpe's wife hosted in his honor and whose real estate dealings with Kenneth Hooks of Kenny's Auto after H.R. Developers purchased the site raised eyebrows during the last municipal election. In a fun twist of bureaucratic irony, last year newly-elected city council member, Belinda Gergel, asked city council to delay voting on a proposed city-funded parking component of the H.R. Developers project until she took Anne Sinclair's vacated seat. Rickenmann told the State newspaper on April 28, 2008 that he thought Anne Sinclair should be the one to cast the vote: "If there is any delay," he said, "it will be because of problems with the contract, not because one person who hasn't been part of the process wants to delay it."

By that logic, shouldn't Chris Barczack have been allowed to cast a vote on the Walgreen's project while the acting and registered agent for the development company stood before him, instead of being forced to unnecessarily- and unethically- delay the vote and hand it over to his new replacement?