For the past few years our subdivision has been locked in a vicious battle with the developer of a subdivision directly behind us. The neighborhood that was originally started was single-family homes, wedged in a narrow strip of land between two other neighborhoods, and about three streets worth of homes were built before the housing market crash.
After the crash, the developer quickly sought to rezone the remaining land (the land that specifically borders my neighborhood) into large apartment buildings. To cut the backstory short: all surrounding subdivisions were against it and fought the rezoning, but elected city officials didn’t care and voted it through with no issue because money talks and the developer offered a lot of talking.
So we sat and waited for the ugly big-box buildings to be erected. Our only concession is that we did get the developer to agree to build screening – in the form of a 6 ft hill with a 6 ft fence on top of it – before starting any construction, to help shield surrounding communities from the noise and dirt and mess. It was written into the rezoning.
Fast forward to last week.
They have over half of the buildings going now, with no fencing or hill. Dust clouds blow through our neighborhood regularly. And it’s loud. OMG, it’s loud, from sun up to sun down, seven days a week. At the urging of other community members, I’ve been sending weekly emails to the city council, upset that the agreed on fence wasn’t in place first like the zoning agreement stated. The city, unwilling to get involved or enforce anything at all, punted each email to the developer, who punted back a useless response from their lawyer.
Then last week, the general manager of the company, likely tired of my constant emails to the city offices, sent me an email directly asking to meet with me privately to discuss the issue. This surprised me, because A: it didn’t come from his lawyer for once, and B: he confirmed he wanted to meet with just me and not others in the community who I had been speaking on behalf of and who are just as upset (or more so) than me. I almost hoped that he might try to bribe us for our silence (since throwing money at problems seems to be their style) but honestly just wanted them to do as they had promised.
He arrived with the site’s project manager on Wednesday and I ushered them out to our backyard patio, a spot we haven’t been able to use all summer due to the constant noise and dust behind us.
As expected, he began by explaining the delay was due to a change in the water lines and that they would have the screening installed by early July – which of course would mean nearly every building would be at least in the framing stage by then. I responded that this was unacceptable, since the “new” plan had been approved many weeks ago and they should have been focused on getting it done to comply with the zoning instead of continuing with putting up buildings.
I then said the best course of action at this point was to stop all construction until the water lines could be installed. (If that really was the issue – considering I live and work here all day and haven’t seen ANY water lines installed along the edge of the property yet.)
And this is where the conversation turned, well…appalling.
The general manager of this large home and apartment real estate development company responded that it would be impossible to stop on the buildings because if they took a break their “team” would move on to other states to work and they would have trouble getting them back. He gave a slimy, knowing grin while he explained that “Hispanics” aren’t as easy to find for work anymore, since so many have gone “home” due to our country’s sluggish economy. The Hispanic workers who have remained have their pick of work right now. I felt like he expected me to feel bad for his hard luck in finding cheap labor.
Put off by his explanation, I responded by saying that I knew of many people in our area looking for work, including skilled construction workers who would love a steady job. He waved my comments away, saying, “Yeah, well, that’s the problem. Too many Caucasians [yes, he said Caucasians] wanting jobs now, and we just can’t work with that.”
Wait, what? No really, WHAT?
As my eyes were still fixed on him, my brain had gone into overload, trying to process the things he was saying to me. Was he telling me he only wanted migrant Hispanic workers for his construction, implying they were cheaper (illegal maybe?) than others who might want a job in this area, or could somehow be worked in a way that others could not?
I sat in stunned silence, unable to think up even a small collection of words to express what I felt in that moment. The topic quickly shifted away again, this time to telling me how lucky we were to have these apartment buildings towering over our backyard, because it’s so much better for home values than an empty plot of land. Progress! he claimed. (I strongly disagreed with him on this, and our real estate agent would happily back me up.)
Then the topic of the disturbance of the natural wildlife came up. It seems cutting down the trees revealed a few coyotes in our area. I’ve seen them several times now, and they steer clear of people, so I don’t mind them. The project manager asked me if I thought animal control would come get rid of them. I said I didn’t know.
Then the project manager chuckled and said, “We’ll just tell the Hispanics that if they can catch ‘em, they can have ‘em for dinner. That’ll take care of the problem.”
Ahem…WTF?!?! Again, I was rewinding that in my head, trying to double check if I heard him correctly. Yep, that’s what he said. Every single word.
I’m not sure why they were saying these things in front of me. Maybe because I’m white they figured I’d feel the same way? Well, bad news for them: I don’t. These two men in high positions spoke in such a way to make me certain that they see people of Hispanic origin as nothing more than cheap labor to be exploited. Being struck over my head with…racism, I think?…in my own backyard was an absolute shock and left me feeling sick to my stomach and angry.
And sadly…silent. I was stunned into silence, unable to speak up to the men on either side of me and tell them that what they were saying was wrong on so many levels, that I didn’t appreciate their characterization of Hispanics, and that they should get out of my yard because I won’t support their hate. I’m still angry with myself for allowing them to shock me, but who says things like that? And openly?
These are your “job creators” everyone! They don’t want to hire your out-of-work neighbor, they think little of the people who do work for them, and they have no plans for helping to boost the economy except for their own personal bank accounts. They’d rather hire a migrant worker that they can treat poorly, work from sun up to sun down, and pay little for rather than provide a good job for local workers who are just as skilled and demand nothing but the chance at a fair wage to support their families and decent working conditions.
More money for them, at the expense of everyone else in the community, all with the blessing of the City of Columbus. Progress! It’s disgusting.
The meeting ended almost right where it began, with no plans to do anything to honor the rezoning agreement, only now I see the head of the company and his project manager for the horrible human beings they are. Laughing that whites are too expensive while lamenting how hard it is to find cheap Hispanic labor now proves to me that everything I have done to fight against this company is justified, and probably hasn’t been enough.
Beyond playing by their own rules and ignoring the comfort and safety of surrounding communities, this real estate development company also has no concern for using their position as a local employer to help promote good, honest jobs for the workers of this city, and instead would rather laugh at the idea of their migrant Hispanic workers eating coyotes for dinner.
Everyone – regardless of color or ethnicity or gender or anything - deserves a chance at a fair wage and the right to be treated with respect by their employer. Looking out my back window, as I gaze on those apartment buildings casting shadows over my yard each morning, I will always be reminded of the words of hate spoken at my patio table.
Edited to add: In case you’re wondering, I won’t post the company name here. From my dealings with them I’d guess they’d much rather spend money on their lawyer than a decent wage for a local worker. But I will certainly speak the truth to everyone I know in Columbus, privately urging them to avoid any dealings with this company.
And if they are reading and considering a lawsuit despite no information linking this post to the company, allow me to pull out my handy-dandy blogger full-disclosure: all opinions expressed in this post are my opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others (unless they choose to share my opinion in the comments below) aside from the passages in quotation marks, which are direct quotes and I might even have a somewhat muffled audio recording from my iPhone in my pocket to prove it.