March 27, 2009

Out of bounds

City employee embroiled in zoning controversy was previously reprimanded

When Ali Ahmadi built a massive indoor soccer club in 2007 without proper city approval, nearby residents were outraged. As a transportation engineer for Metro government, Ahmadi should have known better, and some observers speculated he intentionally circumvented the proper channels because he knew he could get away with it.

But regardless of Ahmadi’s intent in this latest building snafu, a document buried in his personnel file suggests he has previously taken advantage of his government job to get what he wants.

In February 2000, a supervisor reprimanded Ahmadi for using his position with city government to “seek preferential treatment” in attempting to acquire building permits for Javanon Soccer Club, which he owns.

Specifically, the written reprimand chastises Ahmadi for personally approving plans to construct a driveway on property owned by Javanon back in 2000. In addition to literally giving himself the necessary stamp of approval, Ahmadi also tried twice in one day to persuade Metropolitan Sewer District officials to approve a permit, according to the disciplinary action.

“Overall, this behavior points directly to a conflict of interest and is an embarrassment to Jefferson County Government. This will not be tolerated,” writes George Calvert, then-transportation engineering manager for Jefferson County.

The supervisor further states: “Effective immediately, you shall refrain from any and all activities related to the Javanon Soccer Club within the workplace … Likewise, you shall not use your position … to seek preferential treatment for Javanon Soccer Club or anyone else. Failure to abide by these requirements will result in a much stronger disciplinary action including the possibility of termination.”

Nine years later, Ahmadi — who could not be reached for comment — still is working for Metro government and is once again embroiled in a controversy involving Javanon.

In 2005, Javanon relocated to the Tucker Station neighborhood after the city granted a “conditional use permit” allowing Ahmadi to develop two outdoor soccer fields. At the time, neighbors supported the new addition to their community, assuming no further development would be allowed without a hearing and ultimately approval from the Metro Board of Zoning Adjustments.

But then something unexpected happened.

In January 2007, a planning supervisor with the city approved what he thought was merely a request to redesign the parking area at the soccer fields. It turns out the proposed site plan included a simple rectangle listed as a “building,” which the supervisor inadvertently approved as well.

By the time neighbors got the attention of city officials, the 26,000-square-foot metal building had already been built on the site with zero restrictions.

On behalf of residents, attorney Stephen Porter first contacted the city about the unauthorized building in February 2008. The city quickly determined the building should have never been built without prior approval and issued a stop-work order, which was useless considering the facility was already up and running.

Last month, however, the Board of Zoning Adjustment ordered Javanon to cease using the indoor facility until Ahmadi goes through all the required steps, like holding a neighborhood meeting and submitting landscaping plans.

The Board of Zoning Adjustments will again consider the case on April 20.