Mom's the Word

Did Helen Huey's influence help her son get around the city's building code?

Chiropractor Don Huey Jr. was having trouble with the property he owns at 7725 Westview. Huey wanted to convert the nondescript ranch house from a residence to his new office, and he needed city approval of his plan before he could proceed.

But the plan had flaws: at less than ten feet in width, his driveway fell far short of the 24 feet the city building code mandates for a commercial project. Though he had room for the required six parking spaces, his site plan had the spaces located in a way that would unacceptably restrict the smooth flow of traffic. And there was a problem with the location of the driveway in relation to a break in the Westview median. Consequently, Huey's permit application had been rejected by the city agencies responsible for those details.

Then his mom got involved. Four phone calls from City Councilwoman Helen Huey and one week later, the site plan had all the necessary stamps and signatures -- even though it still didn't meet the code.

Huey avers that she never asked anyone to intervene on her son's behalf and says she even emphasized the reverse in her conversation with Public Works and Engineering Department director Jimmie Schindewolf.

"I told him I did not want him or anybody else to do anything extraordinary about it," Huey says. If so, somebody ignored her request. As the people who normally handle the driveway and traffic permit were negotiating with Don Huey's designer, the project was suddenly yanked from their hands and delivered to a bureaucrat who had never before signed such a permit approval. Using a stamp that was three years out of date, he approved the plan.

That public works bureaucrat, assistant director of traffic management and maintenance Mark Lupher, says he got a call from Helen Huey, who wanted to know the reasons behind the delay on 7725 Westview, which is in Huey's Council District A.

"Her concern was it was taking forever and a day trying to get this permit for this particular business, and she was under the impression that the holdup was in my shop, as far as requiring all these amenities," says Lupher, using a novel term for the city's building code requirements. He adds that Huey never mentioned that the property in question belonged to her son.

Huey remembers the conversation differently.
"The slowness of the appeal process didn't have anything to do with [the call]," the councilwoman says. Rather, says Huey, she simply wanted to resolve confusion over what the rules were and who was in charge.

Regardless, Lupher says he looked at the property and determined that variances from the building code were warranted on several counts. One thing Lupher concluded was that the need for a 24-foot-wide driveway to accommodate two-way traffic couldn't be justified, since only a few patients were expected to be going in and out of the proposed office at any one time.

That's not the way Mike Nowroozi and T.K. Tarafder saw it, however. As the two engineers in the street and bridge division who review site plans for adherence to the building code on traffic matters, they had rejected Don Huey's plan for its shortcomings. Westview is a relatively busy, divided four-lane thoroughfare, and the engineers found the prospect of having cars stop at Huey's driveway while waiting for another car to exit too dangerous to waive the width requirement. And the location of several parking spaces didn't offer easy egress from the lot. "That's not allowed by code," says Tarafder. "It's obvious from the drawing."

It wasn't so obvious to Lupher, who, when asked by the Press, seemed to know very little about the code's finer points. In fact, he didn't know exactly what elements of the plan his approval covered. That's not too surprising, since Lupher acknowledges he had never previously issued such a variance. And though he thinks such a waiver had been granted in the past by someone else, he could provide no examples.

Nor could Nowroozi or Tarafder, or their boss, John Hatch, assistant director of the street and bridge division. "We know of no previous action on our part which would set a precedent," Hatch says.

Up to the point where Lupher set his own precedent, the process had been functioning pretty much as designed. Nowroozi had been working with Don Huey's designer, Rebecca Crow, to resolve the problems. Following a May 3 rejection of the plan, Nowroozi and Crow had faxed revisions and comments back and forth for several weeks in an effort to find a compromise. They were making progress, especially after Crow wired over a plan on May 28 that had a 20-foot-wide driveway and a passable parking alignment. "I think we're closing in on an acceptable driveway layout," Crow wrote in her cover letter.

There was still a problem with the median opening, but as Nowroozi's boss, T.K. Tarafder, told Helen Huey after she called him about the project, that detail could be resolved. "He said that was something that a variance could probably be granted on," the councilwoman recalls.

Charles Darelik also saw some of the compromise plans. Darelik, the administrative manager of subdivisions for the city's Planning and Development Department, took the first call from the councilwoman on May 28. He then went to Nowroozi and Tarafder, he says, "to see if I could help resolve the parking issues." Such a step is not unusual. "We get requests every day to help people through the system," Darelik says. At no time, he says, did Huey mention to him that the project was her son's.

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