It was a scene at council that has been repeated many times. A property owner wants to be annexed by the city and get the zoning he desires at the same time.
Usually there is a public hearing and no one speaks. Or if people do come to speak they are listened to politely for their allotted three minutes and the council or planning commission votes unanimously to ignore them.
But this one was different
Councilman Rick LaLance abstained.
Three parcels are involved, all along Veterans Parkway, just south of The Cloister planned residential district and north of a proposed Kroger store. Two of the parcels are rectangular, one about two acres and one about 1.4 acres. A third parcel is 9.65 acres, with a narrow access to Veterans Parkway, and most of its area behind the two rectangles.
The proposal was to annex the two rectangles and rezone them afterwards to Commercial Highway. The 9.65 acres, which were annexed and zoned multi-family in 2013, involved a simple rezoning to Commercial Highway.
LaLance worries about a neighboring subdivision.
Between the Cloister subdivision and the three parcels is a 150-175-foot-wide strip. But LaLance was concerned that this strip didn’t provide enough of a buffer with The Cloister. He noted that Commercial Highway is “the most liberal commercial district we have.”
For example, the Commercial Highway zone allows outdoor amusements, auto repair, trailer parks, fireworks sales, funeral homes, and car dealers. The commercial Fringe zone, in contrast, is designed to be less intrusive near home and allows none of these uses.
Where did this come from?
LaLance’s concern for protecting residents from incompatible uses surprised me. This is the same council that has voted rezonings to heavy industry adjacent to the Magnolia Trace homes without giving it a second thought. This is also the same council which accepts 20 feet (less than a quarter of a stolen base) as the maximum required buffer between heavy industry and homes.
At the Oct. 15th meeting, when the issue first came up, LaLance expressed his concern that the council wasn’t doing enough to protect the residents of The Cloister. Councilman Eddie Smotherman pointed out that the existing buffer strip is as wide as half a football field.
When the vote came on the 15th, all council members present voted yes, except LaLance, who abstained. The issue seemed to be dead.
Hey! Not so fast.
When the item came up for a second reading on Oct. 22, LaLance had changed the whole game. The councilman said that as a result of talks with city planners, he wanted to amend the rezoning of the northernmost rectangle to Commercial Fringe. Smotherman, who may have been involved with the negotiating, said the applicants were in line with the change.
Based on this information from LaLance, the council voted unanimously to approve the revised zoning change.
No opposition on rezoning the 9.65 acres
One might think rezoning the 9.65 ares to Commercial Highway might have been conroversial, since it also abuts the 150-foot-wide buffer strip.
Will Jordan, who is married to one of the mmbers of the partnership that owns the property, told the council this isn’t so.
He said there was opposition at neighborhood meetings from residents of the Cloister, who didn’t want apartments next door. He added that they were happy to accept Commercial Highway as a substitute, and the lack of opposition from them at the meeting proves his point.
“We’re just trying to work our way trough this and make the neighborhood a little happier,” he said.