On a South End street full of roof decks, controversy explodes when one building owner wants to build a roof deck

The Board of Appeals yesterday approved a roof deck proposed by the owner of 10 Bond St. that would sit between the roof decks at 8 and 12 Bond St., rejecting demands by neighbors to deny permission because he currently lives and works in Argentina.

Frederick Bates has been trying since 2013 to win city approval for the deck. His attorney and architect told the board the deck would not be visible from the street and that he would put in planters - with some plants reaching six feet in height - to screen it from his immediate neighbors.

His attorney, Dennis Quilty, said seven other buildings on the short street between Milford and Hanson streets already have decks and that a total of 38 buildings within a 300-foot circumference of Bates's single-family building have decks.

Residents said Bates would be welcome to file another application for a deck when he fulfills what they said was a promise to move into the building himself, rather than renting it out. In fact, some accused him of reneging on that promise. Residents told the board they don't know what could happen if an absentee landlord put in a deck - who would they talk to if they had problems?

One resident raised the specter of an incident at 12 Bond St., which has a deck and had an absentee landlord - and a dog that spent hours on the deck barking.

That landlord, Baily Dent, attended the meeting - to oppose the proposed deck. He acknowledged the dog problem, said it was the fault of his tenant's and that the neighborhood has had no such problems since he moved into the unit himself.

Quilty said Bates does plan to move into the building at some point, but gave no timeline.

Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo tried repeatedly, and futilely, to get people to stop talking about where Bates lives now, saying that's not a zoning issue that the board could deal with. "I just want to focus on the deck," she said. "We're not talking about the universe here and people's lives, we're talking about this deck, which is 294 square feet."

One Bond Street resident did support Bates. Harry Ceccon, who has lived across the street at 7 Bond for 63 years, and who told the board he might have been the first street resident to add a roof deck, said he has never had a problem with the decks on either side of him. He added that he looked out his bedroom window before the hearing and counted 17 decks.

Another supporter was Bates's tenant, who has lived in the building with his wife and daughter for the past five years.

The mayor's office supported the deck proposal. "We don't feel owner occupancy should necessarily be the criteria" for a zoning decision, a neighborhood liaison told the board. But citing the neighborhood opposition, City Councilors Ed Flynn, Annissa Essaibi George, Ayanna Pressley, Michael Flaherty and Michelle Wu and state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz all opposed the deck.

After an aide to Wu cited a petition against the deck signed by 75 residents, Araujo asked, "out of curiosity, how many of those people have decks?" The aide said he did not know.

The board vote was not unanimous. Member Anthony Pisani voted against allowing the deck.

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Comments

I've got mine...

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So screw you. Typical. It's amazing how others think they should have a say in what one can do (within zoning and legal regulations) with their own property. Don't like his roofdeck? Buy the property and rent it out without one.

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Voting is closed. 80

yup

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Im in a total wow on this... NIMBYism at its best.. I have mine, you can't have yours because I don't like it. But never mind that I have it myself....

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Voting is closed. 75

a clarifying question

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but the case was being heard precisely because it doesn't comply with zoning, so the owner was seeking a variance, right? It wasn't totally clear from the post, but that seemed to be what was going on. That being said, I agree that the large number of decks in the immediate vicinity is a point in favor of granting that variance.

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No, I don't think that's the case

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I think the deck is a conditional use (somebody correct me if I'm wrong, though), which means it's allowed, but you still have to get zoning-board permission. This is different than something that is specifically banned by zoning (like, say, he wanted to add ten stories to the top of his building) and would require him to make the case to the board why it should grant him a variance from the zoning.

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People

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If the guy moved in, the neighbors would find a new excuse not to let him build it. The neighbors that live at #8 & #12 just don't want a deck closer to them.

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City government involvement?

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Does the Mayor and City Council usually get involved in roof deck disputes? I'd hope they had better things to do...

"The mayor's office supported the deck proposal. "We don't feel owner occupancy should necessarily be the criteria" for a zoning decision, a neighborhood liaison told the board. But citing the neighborhood opposition, City Councilors Ed Flynn, Annissa Essaibi George, Ayanna Pressley, Michael Flaherty and Michelle Wu and state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz all opposed the deck."

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Voting is closed. 27

Actually, they do

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In fact, you are guaranteed to be rejected by the zoning board (or the licensing board in licensing cases) if you have not first at least tried to make your case to residents, at a neighborhood meeting organized by the mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services.

Yes, the mayor has an entire office dedicated just to dealing with neighborhoods.

That's a good thing. When City Hall doesn't listen to residents, we wind up with the West End.

One could just as easily ask why you don't want city officials consulting with residents on issues that directly affect them. As shown by this decision, the boards that actually make decisions don't always listen to those officials.

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Voting is closed. 39

Residents told the board they

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Residents told the board they don't know what could happen if an absentee landlord put in a deck - who would they talk to if they had problems?

This really sounds like they have an issue with the city's various service agencies. An unattended dog barking loudly on a deck could be referred to 311, animal control, or even the police. The landlord's involvement should be pretty negligible in that situation, except to receive the ticket or summons that comes along with a city agency having to step in and handle a situation on his property.

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Voting is closed. 48

I am shocked and disappointed

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at the city councilors who were against this deck. Wu? Pressley?
Really guys?
In cases like this it's actually your job to point out to the constituents who signed a petition how ridiculous they are being, and not set a dangerous precedent instead. You don't ALWAYS have to pander for votes....

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Voting is closed. 69

There are not enough LOLs in

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There are not enough LOLs in the universe to properly respond to this. None of the aforementioned pols even wipe their ass before knowing which way the wind blows.

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Bingo

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Who wants to guess someone on Bond St. (not the guy proposing the roof deck) is a big contributor to local campaigns?

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Decision about Capuano vs Pressley is now made

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I was on the fence about this one. But knowing that councilor Pressley fought against allowing to out a 3rd roof deck between 2 existing roof decks seals the deal for me. Capuano it is.

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Voting is closed. 34

It's pretty amazing the

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It's pretty amazing the mental gymnastics people are willing to do to try to not allow their neighbor to do something that (a) is perfectly legal and (b) they themselves have already done. With neighbors like this, who needs enemies?!

Also, a roof deck should not be something that the Mayor or City Council should be weighing in on. Either it conforms to zoning or it doesn't.

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Doesn't work that way

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Zoning is not absolute, not in an old city with tens of thousands of parcels in dozens of zoning districts.

The zoning board exists for a couple of reasons:

One is that certain uses are "conditional" - you can probably do whatever it is you want to, but only with the zoning board's approval. For example, for some reason (probably related to trash and noise), take-out food is a conditional use - you can offer it only if the board approves. I think roof decks fall under this as well.

The other is to give property owners a place to argue that their lot's zoning is a particular hardship and that they should be allowed to do something explicitly banned by the zoning code for their particular lot.

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Voting is closed. 27

Massachusett's biggest problem

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oning is not absolute, not in an old city with tens of thousands of parcels in dozens of zoning districts.

This seriously needs to be changed. In the grownup world, zoning IS absolute - and, if you don't like it, you petition to change it (and fight your battle at that level, not your neighbor).

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Voting is closed. 28

Other states

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You know - west of Worcester?

MA is not the hub of anything, let alone the universe.

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Voting is closed. 18

Could you name one?

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Not trying to be snarky here, I'm really curious about places that do not allow any exemptions to their zoning codes.

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Voting is closed. 23

Really?

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I thought the rest of Massachusetts was west of Worcester.

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Voting is closed. 15

I believe that If a town

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I believe that If a town adopts zoning then they usually have a zoning board of appeals, appointed by the selectmen. If they do not appoint a ZBA then the selectmen have the burden. I believe that there are about 5 towns in Massachusetts that have no zoning. Prior to the City of Boston banning heights higher than the church in Copley Square in about 1920 there was only state zoning. After that it spread like wildfire.

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Voting is closed. 10

Here's what the Boston Zoning

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Here's what the Boston Zoning Code says:

https://library.municode.com/ma/boston/codes/redevelopment_authority?nod...

Section 64-34. - Restricted Roof Structure Regulations.

In the South End Neighborhood District, no roofed structure designed or used for human occupancy, access (except as allowed in following paragraph), or storage, and no roof structure, headhouse, or mechanical equipment normally built above the roof and not designed or used for human occupancy, shall be erected or enlarged on the roof of an existing building if such construction relocates or alters the profile and/or configuration of the roof or mansard, unless after public notice and hearing and subject to Sections 6-2, 6-3, and 6-4, the Board of Appeal grants a conditional use therefor.

An open roof deck may be erected on the main roof of a building with a flat roof or a roof with a slope of less than five degrees, excluding shed dormers, provided that: (a) such deck is less than one (1) foot above the highest point of such roof; -(b) the total height of the building, including such deck, does not exceed the maximum building height allowed by this Article for the location of the building; (c) access is by roof hatch or bulkhead no more than thirty (30) inches in height above such deck unless, after public notice and hearing and subject to Sections 6-2, 6-3 and 6-4, the Board of Appeal grants permission for a stairway headhouse; and (d) such deck and any appurtenant hand rail, balustrade, hatch; or bulkhead is set back at least five (5) feet from the front and rear roof edge.

Roof structures, headhouses, and mechanical equipment normally built above the roof and not designed or used for human occupancy shall be included in measuring the building height if the total area of such roof structures, headhouses, and mechanical equipment exceeds in the aggregate: (a) 330 square feet, if the total roof area of the building is 3,300 square feet or less; or (b) ten percent (10%) of the total roof area of the building, if such total roof area is greater than 3,300 square feet.

In reaching its decision under this Section 64-34, the Board of Appeal shall consider whether such roof structure has the potential to damage the uniformity of height or architectural character of the immediate vicinity.

-----

It seems like Section 6.3 introduces the most uncertainty to this process, since almost any new roof deck COULD be seen as a nuisance:

https://library.municode.com/ma/boston/codes/redevelopment_authority?nod...

Section 6-3. - Conditions Required for Approval.

The Board of Appeal shall grant any such appeal only if it finds that all of the following conditions are met:

(a)

the specific site is an appropriate location for such use or, in the case of a substitute nonconforming use under Section 9-2, such substitute nonconforming use will not be more objectionable nor more detrimental to the neighborhood than the nonconforming use for which it is being substituted;

(b)

the use will not adversely affect the neighborhood;

(c)

there will be no serious hazard to vehicles or pedestrians from the use;

(d)

no nuisance will be created by the use;

(e)

adequate and appropriate facilities will be provided for the proper operation of the use;

(f)

if such appeal relates to a Development Impact Project, as defined in Section 80B-7, the applicant shall have complied with the Development Impact Project Exaction requirements set forth in Section 80B-7.3; and

(g)

if such appeal relates to a Proposed Project in an area designated a Greenbelt Protection Overlay District as defined in Section 29-2, the Applicant shall have complied with the requirements set forth in Section 29-3 and Section 29-5 and the standards set forth in Section 29-6.

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Voting is closed. 24

Surprised to see the outrage

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Surprised to see the outrage from some of these commenters who probably neither live in the South End nor the city of Boston for that matter. If South End residents want to battle it out over a roof deck then they can knock themselves. Those outraged over the perceived nimby-ism of this issue are free to move to that neighborhood and defend the Argentinian resident since you're all so intensely passionate about millionaires' roof deck permits.

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Voting is closed. 32

Thanks #8

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Or is it #12?

You don't get it, do you. The outrage was over the demand that people who are already there and have roof decks are extra special and sensitive human beings requiring special treatment because DADDY LOVES ME! ME! ME! BEST!

Clearly, your daddy does not love your special self if SOMEBODY GOT A PONY ROOF DECK TOO!!!

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Voting is closed. 52

It isn't just "perceived

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It isn't just "perceived nimbyism". These is actual Nimbyism with hypocrisy mixed in because these cry babies already have roof decks of their own.

-A Boston resident who would not give a damn if his neighbor added a deck

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Voting is closed. 48

I live in the South End, and

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I live in the South End, and I don't care if someone is a millionaire or an Argentinian or not. If they want to build a roof deck, and if it is allowed by zoning and conforms to the geometric and structural requirements that the city has laid out for a roof deck, I have no problem with that. Everything else is irrelevant.

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So only those that live there

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So only those that live there can speak on this? The rest of us should not express any opinions?

The scourge of NIMBYism is a concern for all Bostonians.

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Voting is closed. 21

wtf

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at first I was guessing the neighbors were afraid of the thing being turned into an AirBnB (I know they're 'illegal' now, but, lol, we'll see). But the tenant's been their five years? With a kid? That's longer than some of these neighbors have probably owned.

still don't believe the opposition is actually based on the deck itself.

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Voting is closed. 34

My guess is that the only

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My guess is that the only constituents that either George or Wu heard about on this issue were those that opposed it, and since they didn't have strong opinions of their own on the issue, that is who they showed up to represent.

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You have my vote for that.

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You have my vote for that. That said, often times the way this works is that the councilors will only show up to oppose if they know it won't matter. That way they can claim to be representing constituents' interests while also not actually blocking reasonable development.

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Voting is closed. 22

To piggyback on this, there's

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To piggyback on this, there's a decent change the at-large councilors actually knew nothing about this specific case going. Often they have staff up there at the ZBA who will just follow the lead in the moment of whatever the district councilors do. Wouldn't be surprised if that's what happened here. But the at-larges should really instruct their staff to stay away from self-evidently absurd opposition like this in case UHub is present to expose how stupid it looks for them.

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Voting is closed. 15

Sorry, but I'm having a hard

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Sorry, but I'm having a hard time finding any sympathy for a non-resident rich guy who can't get a roof deck.
Pro-tip for those who wish to live in an historic neighborhood. Do your research BEFORE you buy a condo in said neighborhood. You CHOSE to buy a beautiful expensive condo in a beautifully preserved <---(for a reason!) and expensive historic neighborhood with very strict regulations so now you have to accept the consequences. I'm sure if the condo owner wanted to sell, he would make a fortune and then be able to buy another condo in a non-historic neighborhood and build the roof deck of his dreams. ...though not sue why he cares since he lives in Argentina and not in his roof deck-less South End condo anyways. Cry me a river.

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Voting is closed. 19

You speak as if installing a

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You speak as if installing a roof deck is prohibited. It is not. It is a conditional use. The roof deck must meet certain dimensional and design requirements, and a public hearing must be held to ensure that it will not pose an undue nuisance to the neighborhood. Given that there are roof decks on either side (and 38 total nearby), I would hardly imagine that installing one more would be unreasonable.

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Voting is closed. 33

Hmmmmm

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Hi There,

I am the owner and am not some distant Argentina rich guy that doesn't care about Boston. Actually I grew up with nothing in the town of Walpole. After I paid my way through school I was able to get an entry level job in Boston and lived in the SOuth End ever since it was a scary place to live. One day I had enough money to put a deposit down, get a mortgage and buy the house of my dreams in the neighborhood I loved. What I didn't know was that there was a cartel of neighbors that thout they owned the block as well as my house. The bullied my for years, had other neigbors try to sue me which took years of defending myself against baseless claims. Some made offers for me to have to buy their house to give up their lawsuits. One neighbor was a Boston Police Detective that used his power an connections to block my simple roof deck application on the grounds that I am on a work assignment out of the country and thatI would allow some crazy tenant to leave dogs barking on the deck which is a bit baseless. You people crying about rich vs poor have a simple way of vieing things that is not relevant. This is a case of someone taking your rights away from you with a gang of cronies because they lived there longer than you. That is just not right in the Boston I grew up in. Also its not right in America that people can play these dirty tricks for years and take you hostage.

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Voting is closed. 29

Absent owner with no local presence

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I'm sorry.

The issue is not the deck per se. The issue is that the building owner lives out of the country and has (apparently) refused to designate anyone plausibly local who is authorized to act for him in case of emergency -- and none of the people whom he brought with him to the neighborhood association meeting was willing to act on his behalf without something in writing.

For some reason, the fact that he claims to be reachable by telephone from somewhere in South America where he lives and works if, say, and God forbid, there might be a fire or a flood or a break-in is not very comforting. Especially if you live next door. (I myself live down the street, but I wouldn't be happy if my next-door neighbors disappeared for weeks or months on end without leaving a contact person to call and say, "You know that house you used to have?".)

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Voting is closed. 24

That's not your job

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In the case of an emergency, you are not responsible for contacting your neighbor. Sure it's a friendly thing to do, but your neighbors are under no obligation to give you any of their contact information, regardless of where they (and you) live. Even if that makes you unhappy.

If there's a fire, call the fire department. Break in? Police. Flood? BWSC. The authorities (and your neighbor's insurance company) are responsible for contacting them -- not you. Count yourself lucky!

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Voting is closed. 34

What?

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if there's a fire, call the fire department, not the owner. Where does it say one must live in the country to be a landlord, or that neighbors must have a contact person for anyone renting out their unit?

If there's a flood, or a break-in, contact the person who IS living there. You know, the people spending tens of thousands dollars a year to be your neighbor.

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Voting is closed. 36

You are one of the neighbors

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Totally baseless comment.
The owner (Me) gave them his cell number, email, WhatsApp, and even has a property management company with contact details screwed into the door. Also he has a tenant there for the last 5 years. You are too lazy to ring the bell or send an email if you have a concern? . Perhaps in 1950 it would be hard to get in touch with someone but if you sent me a text it would be quicker than ringing the door bell. What a silly concern. If you told me you had issues with the deck design, privacy featurs, or something real I would listen. In fact I did at multiple neighborhood meetings where you guys bullied my and kept making up new excuses to not give me the deck. The fact is that people are hypocrites.

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Voting is closed. 23

Get the champagne

I myself live down the street, but I wouldn't be happy if my next-door neighbors disappeared for weeks or months on end without leaving a contact person to call

You just won the World Series of Concern Trolling.

I don't even know the first names of the Asian family that have lived across from me for 14 years, and you expect for your neighbors to volunteer you a telephone number?

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Voting is closed. 26

Why

does their Asian-ness matter in this comment?

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Voting is closed. 21

Okay

Why does it matter in your picture? You didn't mention how many people are in the family, or the type of car they drive if they drive a car, or their ages.

When an author describes the sky they do it for a reason, and each part of the description has a purpose.

What's your purpose?

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Voting is closed. 20

Because Will Is A Racist

He's openly stated that bars should keep out black people and it's Kafkaesque that anyone should think otherwise. He can't form three sentences without dropping in a person's ethnicity or skin color.

Hope that clears up why he needs to mention his neighbors are Asian.

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Voting is closed. 15

???????????????

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Today I learned: Long term renters are not actually people, do not own phone numbers, are not your neighbors, and should not be alerted if their domicile is on fire.

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