Saturday, March 14, 2009

Witherspoon’s movie wit is real-life wisdom in Auburn

(Originally published 3/14/09)

In the 2002 movie "Sweet Home Alabama," Reese Witherspoon's character, aspiring fashion designer Melanie Carmichael, happens into a high school friend at a local bar upon her return to the small town she had left for New York City.

"Look at you," she cooed in disbelief, eyeing the chubby baby boy on her friend's hip. "You have a baby ... in a bar."

The line is built on irony and was meant for laughs.

Opelika-Auburn News reporter Katie Stallcup told you yesterday how the Auburn Planning Commission gave the green light to a new bar that would border a day care on two of its four sides.

There's no shortage of irony. But laughs are in short supply.

I attended the meeting on Thursday and listened as planning commissioners heard from Brandon Haynes, the Columbus, Ga., man who wants to nestle a Caribbean-themed bar up against Hardy's Creative Childcare in downtown Auburn.

Martha Hardy stepped forward and delivered a measured but thorough and compelling case against approval. She asked commissioners to consider carefully the impact the new bar would have on the business that bears her name.

Before detailing the many ways in which bar-patron passersby could compromise the safe environment she has striven to cultivate over the 30 years she has cared for children in Auburn, Hardy noted this line from the city's zoning ordinance itself:

"The purpose of this Ordinance is the promotion of the health, safety, and general welfare of the present and future inhabitants of Auburn by (section 102.11) protecting landowners from adverse impacts of adjoining developments."

Hardy asked commissioners to put themselves in a parent's position. Given the choice between two otherwise equal childcare centers, how many of them would select the one with a bar right next door?

Her point: The commission would be hard pressed to find a type of business that would have a more adverse impact on her own than the one they were considering.

Parent after parent, and even some concerned folks who don't have children at her daycare, lined up to illustrate Hardy's point: For reasons from safety to morality to just plain common sense, they pleaded with the commission not to approve the bar.

For the record, my children don’t attend Hardy's. I’ve never even met Martha Hardy. And in fairness, Haynes seems like a nice enough guy. I appreciate several things about his interest in Auburn: He’s a small business owner looking to expand. He's interested in downtown redevelopment. And although his illustrations about how he and his wife seek to advance philanthropy and be good corporate citizens were overdone, I also appreciate their commitment in those areas.

But Hardy is a small business owner, too. She is now serving a second generation of families in the downtown location she's had for 18 years. Now into her fourth decade of being a good corporate citizen, she is an Auburn resident herself. She is one of the Village's own.

This issue will be before Auburn's city councilors in coming weeks. Between now and then, I hope you will -– respectfully –- ask them to protect Martha Hardy and her business by denying Haynes's application.

Melanie Carmichael had it right: Children and bars don't mix.

See also:

  • Sign the petition imploring the Auburn City Council to deny Haynes's application.

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