Closed for business. Photo credit: Times-Dispatch.
Closed for business. Photo credit: Times-Dispatch.

I was planning to blog today about the sad fate of Tarek Hezam, a New Yorker who moved to the Richmond region and opened a convenience store in the Oak Grove neighborhood of the city in 2013. After neighbors complained that the store became a magnet for trash and crime, the City of Richmond revoked his certificate of zoning compliance, suddenly discovering that, oh, so sorry, they’d overlooked the fact that commercial zoning for the site had expired back in 1975. Between rent, startup costs and lawyer fees, Hezam is out $160,000.

But Bart Hinkle at the Times-Dispatch beat me to to the commentary — and he did a fine job of it, so I’ll just quote liberally from his column.

The city administration talks a good game about economic development, Hinkle writes, and it’s more than happy to work with the big boys on grandiose projects like the Shockoe Bottom ballpark, the Redskins training camp and the Stone Brewery development. But what does it say to small entrepreneurs who aren’t rich and politically connected? “Drop dead.”

Malcontents are worried about trash in the streets. But who is responsible for that? “Five bucks says Hezam doesn’t spend his spare time throwing garbage around the neighborhood,” writes Hinkle. “Nor, for another five bucks, do people drive in from North Side or Westover Hills to toss their empty chip bags and soda cups on the ground. If litter is a problem, then the solution is to tackle littering head-on.”

Some in the community also complained that Hezam was peddling the usual junk food fare found in inner-city convenience stores. Rosa Jones, president of the Oak Grove Civic Association, suggested he should bring a shoe shop “or something we can use.” As Hinkle observes, “Jones hasn’t sunk tens of thousands of her own dollars into the project. Until she does, she has no business telling the person who has invested his own money what to do with it. If she really wants a shoe shop in the neighborhood, then she’s welcome to open one herself — if the city will let her, that is.”

There is a crying need for jobs and investments in inner-city Richmond, but city officials have shut down one small entrepreneur who would create both at no expense or risk to the taxpayer. What kind of signal does that send to others, Hinkle wonders.

Hezam offered to change his retail format to a takeout restaurant serving fried chicken and fish but no alcohol. The planning commission shot him down. He plans to sue the city for relief. “If a judge in their right mind tells me I don’t have a claim,” he said, “then I shouldn’t be in Virginia.


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41 responses to “Economic Un-Development”

  1. Some level of government is a requirement for a properly functioning modern society. Even the most rabid Tea Party member wants to know that “Nothing stops the US Air Force”.

    The question is how big government should get and how broadly its reach should extend.

    There is no algorithmic answer. There is no calculation which can tell us when government has gotten too big (or too small for that matter). However, there are warning signs. When New York City de-evolved into a festival of crime in the 1980s that was a signal that government needed to take a stronger position. When our betters in Richmond start picking economic winners and losers that’s a sign that government has gotten too big.

    It seems to me that government (at all levels) has gotten too big and too expansive in recent years. From the Fed’s manipulation of interest rates to Obama’s willingness to bail out General Motors (but not Filene’s Basement, for example) to Richmond’s selective enforcement of zoning laws against an entrepreneur – the red flags of excessive government are becoming more and more evident. Meanwhile, transparency becomes a victim of government excess as e-mails suddenly disappear from Hillary Clinton’s mailbox as well as Lois Learner’s. In a striking bit of bad luck Al Sharpton’s financial records were destroyed in a fire … for the second time.

    This cycle gets broken in one way and one way only – an election day meltdown of the party of big government – namely, the Democratic Party. I expect the 2016 elections to be a repudiation of the “more government is good” crowd who swept into office starting in 2008.

    It’s time to starve the beast. Not starve it to death but definitely starve it until it sheds a few pounds.

    1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      “In a striking bit of bad luck Al Sharpton’s financial records were destroyed in a fire … for the second time.”

      Remind us again which government agency Al Sharpton works in or which elected position he’s ever held within the government. None and none?

      Nice bit of race baiting, though.

      1. you can always tell when Don R and Bacon have been slurping at the right wing troughs…a tad longer than they should… and the drool drops into BR.

        the trouble with the anti-govt folks is – as DonR illustrates, it’s not about govt per se , it’s about those “other” folks

        it may take a while – a longer dance – but ordinary folks are going to eventually “get it” with regard to the right and their tactics – which I
        admit are very successful but premised largely on ignorance that cries for sound-bite answers.

        and here’s some proof.

        If the anti folks were really serious – the first place they’d go “throw the bums out” would be places that treat small business the way they do but what is the actual result?

        No one cares at the local level even the Tea Party types. The fire and fury is all aimed at … folks like Al Sharpton…or the weakest POTUS ever for being the worst law breaker ever… the same guy…

        eventually enough people are going to see the bogus nature of this

        the same folks crying about subsidies to the ACA say “keep your dang govt hands off my Medicare”.

      2. From CBS News …

        “Not only does Sharpton travel to see the president, the president travels to see him.”

        The only race baiting is failing to call out crooks because they are African American.

        Sharpton is a influential friend of the president and he is a crook.

        1. re: ” Sharpton is a influential friend of the president and he is a crook”

          an example of the right wing brand of politics

          only the right thinks Sharpton is a crook but they almost always pair the “crook” part with “race baiter”.

          on the right-wing media uses that label ……..for him

          1. Yes, CBS is notoriously right wing.

            Sharpton has failed to comply with tax and campaign filing requirements. Twice suspicious fires have destroyed his financial records. He’s not a crook? Really? If the same thing happened to Wayne Lapierre what would the left say?

            Some of the stuff you write really does make me laugh out loud.

          2. he might be a crook but the thing to not fail to understand is how whites view him verses how blacks view him.

            Nothing illustrates the divide more than that.

        2. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

          So still not part of the government. Thanks for playing.

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    It’s not just inner city residents who want to dictate what businesses are open. I saw the results of a survey of McLean, Vienna and Falls Church residents who want someone to make investors and operators to open specific types of businesses and not others. One would think people who live here know something about markets, but whatever is known is often crowded out by large egos.

    1. Who cares what “residents” say? What matters is what government does. In this case government is picking economic winners and losers and that’s wrong.

      1. geeze Don – Government IS people…. have you heard of the concept of elections per chance?

        1. Yes, and I’ve seen gerrymandering, off year elections, thousands of signatures needed for an independent to get on a ballot, big money campaigns dominated by Dominion Resources contributions, etc.

          You live in a fantasy world where our “betters” are fairly elected in open, honest and balanced elections.

          Government is a small cadre of elites who have taken over the country for their personal benefit. In turn, they repay their campaign contributors with special favors.

          1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

            So a small cadre of monied elite have taken over our representative government and the solution isn’t to remove the influence of the monied elite on that representative government but to shrink the representation that the rest of the people have and leave the monied elite in place in the rest of society where they will doubtless play by the rules and not return America to the Gilded Age or prior.

          2. Don and his fellow anti-govt folks don’t have totally clear and consistent ideas about governance and it shows sometimes when the talk shifts to elites and conspiracies , etc…

            Don complains a lot about Virginia and it’s governance and I actually agree with much of what he says…

            but despite all the righteous indignation about Dillon – local govt has huge power over land-use decisions and they use it all the time to force property owners to do things they don’t want to do – and yet there is no outrage from the general population.

          3. re: “our betters”.

            well – I’d ask again – where is the outrage about zoning policies at the local level from the folks that think like you?

            are you a tiny minority or a large number of folks who are not outraged enough to make change?

  3. this is the kind of thing that gives govt a bad name and empowers the anti-govt folks.

    I take a dim view of this kind of treatment of small business.

    this issue also has a “feel” of not all the story … not all small businesses get treated this way (I hope) and there is (I hope) no pattern of it.

    so something is going on between him and the regulators., I suspect.

  4. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    Perhaps some in society feel that there are other values besides commerce that should drive what a community is? Perhaps some have learned from the past few decades that a community can really lose its shape and identity without proactive planning/zoning. It’s quite easy to see a cluster of businesses of a certain type (liquor store, fast food, convenience stores, check cashing, car title loan) pop up on a street….watch property values plummet and ultimately lead to a blighted neighborhood and destruction of a community.

    Hinkle’s column is what one would suspect. But he fails to address a lot of other values. Aesthetics, magnetism, hospitality to the arts, creativity, self-actualization, education…there’s a lot more to the human condition than simply opening up a beer and cigarettes convenience store or a chicken and fish shop. To portray one individual’s desire to make a dollar as the ultimate value of a neighborhood or community is short-sighted. Hinkle went for the cheap shots that he usually does by framing false arguments of the “little guy” v. “big government.” I think the tale is just as much about a community expressing its values v. someone not invested in the community and wanting to make a quick buck.

    Hinkle wants to reduce the human condition to a materialist state in which commerce trumps all values (religious, cultural, aesthetic, etc.).

    1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      Why do you hate capitalism?

      1. Wow! LOTFL asks a good question.

    2. “The community” does not own private property. If you would prefer that approach there are options in Havana and North Korea. Seriously, “the community” can shove its opinion straight up its a** as far as I am concerned. “The community” doesn’t get to close stores it doesn’t like.

      Your complaint that Hinkle reduces the human condition to ” a materialist state in which commerce trumps all values (religious, cultural, aesthetic, etc.)” is absurd.

      1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

        So you’re doubling down on the POV that Cville is criticizing and being crude to boot. Impressive.

      2. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

        It’s wrong when monied interests buy political influence to do whatever they want but it’s okay for those same monied interests to move into a community and do whatever they want regardless of the will of the people that make up that community.


        1. did someone way KELO?

      3. Cville Resident Avatar
        Cville Resident

        Is it really absurd? From someone who calls me a communist for simply stating that zoning laws have a place in society??? Really?

        Hinkle is good at what all on the right are good at….cherry picking one individual’s case and trying to apply it as broad principle. He’s the absurd one. In a Hinkle universe, I should be able to locate a toxic waste dump next to an elementary school because it’s my “natural right” to “stand up to big government” and “make a living.”

        From the articles that have covered this, it is my understanding that the city has enforced its zoning law. The property lost its commercial designation. Is it really “communist” to enforce zoning laws? DonR, how about we plop this cigarette and booze joint next to your home?

  5. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    It’s a sweet piece of propaganda that you and Hinkle are fine labeling people who care about what goes on in their neighborhoods and communities “malcontents.” Would either of you use the same language to describe, say, an HOA?

    1. HOAs are interesting critters than I’m sure Jim will say are totally voluntary to the participants who essentially sign up for a government within a government. Gated communities take it even further. The rules are draconian and extend to the most simple things.

      and not infrequently, after the fact, some individuals will claim that their guaranteed liberties are being taken away and the response is – they agree to it when they signed on.

      but zoning laws themselves are in large part – predicated on the concept of “uses” that need to be “compatible” with adjacent uses.

      thus you can’t put a liquor store next to a school or a church usually – or for that matter a large big box store on a commercial strip in front of a neighborhood without major mitigation and agreement from the affected neighborhood.

      some folks have complained mightily over the years that the evolved rules that prevented living quarters in a commercial building were wrong and they prevailed when mixed-used was “re-discovered”.

  6. re: ” If litter is a problem, then the solution is to tackle littering head-on.””

    I’ constantly amazed at Jim’s apparent myopia on issues like this.

    Perhaps, he’s never noticed that franchise fast food operators as well a 7-11, WaWa, Walmart etc – all them send out employees each day to patrol the property and pick up litter. Yes – this does cost them money but it’s also their commitment to keep their store grounds clean and not become an eyesore to their neighbors – even though it’s the customers – not them who is littering.
    Down in our neck of the woods – this is expected by the zoning folks as well as having the dumpsters in back and fenced from view and no dumpster dumping until normal daylight hours.

    Jim – and apparently Don think that the owner is entitled to property rights as viewed from the property owner, even if it causes impacts to others – .

    Jim even calls these things “externalities” like the hard-core libertarian types do. That mindset absolves the property owner of impacts to others apparently – and it extends beyond trash – to pollution. It’s the essential reason why coal plants are exempted from causing damage to others.

  7. While part of me wants to commend this young guy for starting a business in a community that badly needs economic development, another part of me has to sympathize with the long-time residents of Oak Grove/Bellemeade who are leading the opposition. It’s their community, and who are we to tell them that they have to take what they can get? They don’t. They can be picky. It’s their neighborhood. If they don’t want convenience stores and fried food — if they want to hold out for something better — that’s their choice to make. It should not be the job of the feds, the state, or even the city to revitalize these communities; nor should it be the job of suburban developers or New York entrepreneurs. Revitalization must come from the inside if it’s going to stick. I think it’s a low-blow to suggest that because Rosa Jones doesn’t have the money to build her own businesses she should shut up and and let people who do have money do whatever they want. While I am no fan of govts telling communities what to do, I strongly support communities deciding for themselves — and then using the laws and policies available to them to achieve those goals. A Wild West approach to revitalization will not succeed. At best, it results in gentrification. At worst, it results in a downward spiral.

    1. It’s a good thing that people in Oak Grove care about their community. They have every right in the world to be concerned about the impact that Mr. Hezam’s convenience store will have on the neighborhood. But they don’t have the right to shut him down after he has committed tens of thousands of dollars of his own capital to start a legal business after doing everything the city asked him to do.

      What other options might community activists have?

      Have a sit-down talk with Mr. Hezam and politely ask him to reconsider the mix of products he offers for sale, and ask him to make greater efforts to clean the litter around his premises. Did anyone have that conversation with him? The newspaper article never makes mention of such an effort to reach out to him.

      Worried about the criminal element hanging around the store? Talk to the police. Perhaps the police would agree to patrol the area with greater frequency.

      If those measures don’t work, crank up the pressure. Organize a community boycott of Mr. Hezam’s establishment.

      There are ways of solving the problems cited in the article short of shutting down the store. I find it frightening that many readers leap to the defense of this arbitrary action. They are perfectly happy with wielding the power of the police state to advance their own goals, or the goals with whom they sympathize. Let’s see how they respond when the power of the police state is turned against them.

      1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

        Just so we’re clear, this has not been an exercise in using the police state. Hezam was not beaten or arrested or anything of the sort. He was told he could no longer operate a commercial property in a particular location.

  8. Now it’s time to play the race card in reverse. Mr. Hezam, judging by his name, appears to be of Middle Eastern descent. The people complaining about his store were African-America. If Mr. Hezam were African-American, would the city have shut down his store in the same arbitrary, high-handed way?

    1. have you really got anything to prove racism ?

      why do you always seem to gravitate in that direction?

      also – I’m quite sure you and your neighborhood would mobilize to oppose
      whatever you thought might adversely affect your community. A new road, a powerline, a tatoo shop or a home enterprise.

      why do not allow that same option for others?

      is there hypocrisy involved here?

    2. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      Well since the two bodies in the city – city council and the planning commission – are both majority white and the 8th district council woman representing that neighborhood – Reva Trammell – is white, I’d say you’d have an uphill battle proving that black bigotry against potentially Middle Eastern people is at play here.

      It’s also not arbitrary. If the commercial zoning for that property expired the city should have never given him the go ahead in the first place. The community didn’t want that business there and found a legal way to remove it. The city should renumerate Hezam for wasting his time and money and all parties should move on.

      1. Cville Resident Avatar
        Cville Resident

        That’s where I end up as well. It’s not as if I don’t have sympathy for this individual in terms of expending money on an enterprise. But, he was mistakenly granted permission by the city. Now, the city is enforcing the law. Give him recompense and properly administer the law….

        Let me play Hinkle for a moment…what Hinkle really is advocating for is the arbitrary and capricious nature of authoritarian states. The law clearly does not allow this commercial enterprise. A city official is able to trump the rule of law and allow this man to open a business where he is prohibited from opening it. My God, just like Obama’s executive actions, the zoning administrator in Richmond has become a king unaccountable to the people! Hinkle loves monarchy!

        Obviously, none of that is true. But I just played the Hinkle game. He’s such a knave. He loves to take real world situations of humans interacting with each other and then he writes a column in which it becomes the abstract “man v. state” meme that is so tired and completely dishonest.

        1. re: ” it becomes the abstract “man v. state” meme that is so tired and completely dishonest.”

          but it plays spectacularly well with the FAUX news/Heritage Action/ALEC/CATO folks! it’s their SPECIALTY and you
          have to admit – the ranks of the torch and pitchfork crowds are healthy and expanding!

          it’s like I said – bad bad govt – bad bad Obama, bad bad poor blacks and their neighborhoods but putting the Tea Party on the trail of the local white governing folks – heaven forbid.

  9. “Have you really got anything to prove racism ?”

    No, I don’t have anything to *prove* racism. That makes me just like you when you throw out accusations of racism. The difference is that I didn’t make a stark statement. I asked a question.

    “Why do you always seem to gravitate in that direction?”

    Because you do.

    1. “Why do not allow that same option [mobilizing to oppose something objectionable in your community] for others?”

      I just recited ways that people the community could mobilize to address what they considered to be objectionable attributes of Hezam’s store. OF COURSE people have the right to mobilize.

      The issue is the city granting Hezam permission one day, letting him spend tens of thousands of dollars on the business, and then revoking the permit the next day.

      1. then why is this about the neighborhood rather than the white governing and zoning folks who control the zoning?

        but again – I’m quite sure if your neighborhood was “threatened” – you’d not only mobilize but you’d use every option available to you so why is that wrong for others?

        we have a bunch of idiots down our way who do not want a 200 foot cell tower near their neighborhood (on a lumber yard) and they cite the historic nature of the land – even though the National Park Service have said they’re fine with it.

        these folks WANT the cell tower to benefit them – it’s needed – but they want to put it on others land…

        1. For the record, I have no more sympathy with middle-class white NIMBYs objecting to cell phone towers than I have with working-class African-American NIMBYs objecting to convenience stores.

          You don’t want cell phone towers, dude, then don’t whine about your inadequate cell phone service!

          1. Good god! we agree!

    2. re: “because I do”.

      methinks you are evading the issue.

      even if I do that – and I do not believe it is my standard practice

      why does that excuse you from what seems to be of late – a standard practice
      not just on this issue but others like schools and food security?

      You’ll note – I react to your words – I capture them when I comment…

      I do not think every issue goes back to race but I also think – and know there is denial about it – has been and continues to be despite a plethora of recent news – that some folks still refuse to believe and attribute it to “agitators”.

      I’ll even acknowledge that black communities do not have love for Jewish, Asian and other ethnic store owners in their communities.. but it’s not so
      much overt racism as their feeling that others of better economic means are
      able to exploit economic opportunities that blacks cannot because so few have the means to start with ..

      There was a show called the Jeffersons which had that as a central theme of one of them that “made it”. You may remember. It fairly oozed ” finally getting a piece of the pie”.

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