Tensions between city staff and stakeholders stemming from a proposed ordinance governing events at St. Armands Circle Park have spilled over, causing a schism within the St. Armands Residents Association.
As a result, a group of St. Armands residents has formed a new organization in opposition to the proposed special events regulations — and to the residents association’s stance on that issue.
Citizens Organized to Protect St. Armands, or COPS, sent a letter to St. Armands homeowners in late September, the first public volley signaling the internal conflict within the association.
The letter accuses the residents association of giving in to outside interests at the expense of the quality of life on St. Armands, opening with a salvo that encapsulates the newly formed group’s general message:
“As a St. Armands homeowner, you need to be aware that your St Armands Residents Association is not representing your interests well,” the letter states.
The letter has five signatures, including those of former St. Armands Residents Association presidents Graeme Malloch and Jay Sparr and former Vice President Edward Rosenblum.
Rosenblum resigned from the St. Armands Residents Association in May, following policy disagreements with leadership. Rosenblum was a fervent critic of the city’s proposals for a new ordinance managing special events at St. Armands Circle Park, a topic that has become an ongoing saga over the past year at City Hall. The letter COPS sent largely pertains to how the St. Armands Residents Association has handled that issue.
In July, Rosenblum was shocked to see a representative from the St. Armands Residents Association offer the organization’s endorsement of an iteration of that proposed ordinance, which would limit the number of events per month and prevent events from being held during the height of season.
Rosenblum said residents in the area were far from united on this topic. He took issue with the control given to city staff to approve events, arguing that St. Armands stakeholders should have control over what happens in the park. He believes the utmost consideration should be given to residents in the area, who he says suffer the most as a result of special events in the Circle.
“You have the imposition of injury on the residents every time there’s a high-intensity event,” Rosenblum said. “We should have the say — not a city staffer — as to whether we want to endure that pain.”
Rosenblum, Malloch and Sparr said that, ideally, they would continue to operate within the context of the residents association, but they were committed to ensuring residents had a say in what happened at St. Armands Circle Park.
COPS is proposing a system by which a five-person advisory group — comprised mostly of residents but also including a merchant and city staff member — could make recommendations to the city regarding events at the park on a case-by-case basis.
Malloch said the focus of COPS was on maintaining a high quality of life on St. Armands. He believes keeping control of the park in the hands of St. Armands stakeholders, rather than city staff, is paramount to ensuring that quality of life is upheld.
“We said, ‘We need to stand up,’” Malloch said. “‘We don't like the direction this change seems to be taking.’”
Despite the departure of several key figures — and the ensuing criticism from those figures — the St. Armands Residents Association is attempting to proceed with business as usual, according to President Hugh Fiore.
“We're continuing to serve the residents the way we have since 1951,” Fiore said. “Nothing has changed.”
Fiore said the group’s focus goes far beyond any one issue. The residents association plans to continue to work with the other members of the St. Armands Landlords, Merchants and Residents group, and Fiore said he has received no indication that other stakeholders are unwilling to collaborate with his organization.
Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, has been another advocate for local stakeholder control of events at St. Armands Circle Park. She, too, was surprised to see the residents association offer its support for the city proposal in July but chalked it up to a simple misunderstanding.
Following the most recent discussion of the ordinance, Corrigan said all of the involved parties felt they were nearing a mutually acceptable agreement. That may now be derailed, with COPS representing one of at least two interests to step forward as a potential roadblock to a peaceful final public hearing (Bill Kinney, owner of Paragon Art Festival, has also spoken out against the ordinance).
Like Fiore, Corrigan said she expected to be able to collaborate with the residents association going forward. As an outsider, she said she wasn’t entirely sure what brought on the infighting among the residents group, but she said she hoped to see it resolved soon.
“It really saddens me to see it come to this point,” Corrigan said.
Although he was reluctant to comment on specifics, Fiore said it was hard to imagine the St. Armands Residents Association coming to an understanding with COPS.
“As far as a relationship — I doubt very much that there will be a relationship,” Fiore said. “They've declared war on us.”
Rosenblum, Malloch and Sparr were not as pessimistic about the possibility of reconciliation. Rosenblum said the group has generally received positive feedback from residents regarding its messaging and proposal, and that discussion at a St. Armands Residents Association meeting Tuesday suggested there was room for collaboration.
“At the end of the day, there was discussion about tapping some resources that we have and using them for the benefit of everyone, rather than just pitting neighbor against neighbor,” Rosenblum said.
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