The West U City Council on Monday voted, 3 to 1, to finally approve a new zoning ordinance for commercial properties in the city, despite protests from angry residents who vowed a petition drive to repeal the new zoning rules.
Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample, who is running unopposed in her bid to become West U’s next Mayor, cast the lone dissenting vote against the zoning ordinance.
Many residents, including Laura Torgerson, complained they had not been allowed to comment on the changes prior to the council’s final vote.
“What a shame you would vote before hearing from all the people,” Torgerson said. “We are a small neighborhood, I’m kind of confused about why you would vote before hearing from the people.”
Others, like Janine Schueppert and Spyros Maragos, said they would try to repeal the new ordinance by seeking signatures on a petition for an election to revoke it.
The new zoning ordinance is the culmination of a year-long effort by the Zoning and Planning Commission, a special steering committee and the West U council. A similar effort was undertaken by the city two years ago.
The council gave preliminary approval to the new zoning rules, by a 4-1 vote, on February 24. Mayor Bob Fry, who voted in favor of the preliminary approval of the ordinance, was absent from Monday’s meeting.
The council’s preliminary approval followed a joint public hearing conducted by the Council and the Zoning and Planning Commission, which was held February 9, 2015. The ZPC kept that public hearing open through its February 12 meeting, to allow residents to comment on the commercial zoning ordinance.
In addition, the ZPC held two town hall meetings about the proposed zoning changes in September. One of the town hall meetings was in the afternoon, and a second meeting was held in the evening.
Since that preliminary vote, many West U residents have emailed members of the city council about concerns that the new Town Center Commercial district could become “a mall” across the street from West U Elementary School. They are concerned that the strip of small businesses, restaurants and offices along the east side of Edloe Street is the target of “developers” who plan to build “a mall” across from the school.
Councilman Dick Yehle, a former member of the city’s Zoning and Planning Commission, tried to explain that the Town Center is just one part of the city’s effort to rezoning non-single family properties in West U.
The changes include new zoning restrictions for commercial properties on the periphery of the city, including the rezoning of one block of Kirby between Plumb and Tangley from residential to commercial, and changes that are aimed at making a townhome district along Kirby more attractive to developers. There is also a section of the new commercial zoning ordinance aimed at improving the visual aesthetics, lighting and sound around the city’s commercial properties.
Yehle’s attempt to explain the ordinance was interrupted several times by West U residents who complained — loudly — about not being allowed to comment on the zoning changes.
Yehle said that “there has been a lot of information and misinformation” about the zoning changes.
Under the Town Center Commercial district zoning rules, Yehle said, “We are going to maintain essentially the same situation as today, but move ahead and improve the street scape.”
The properties in Town Center could only be rebuilt according to the new zoning rules, which would:
*limit the buildings to two stories, or no more than 35 feet in height;
*do away with the “head-in” parking along Edloe St., by requiring that new construction be built at the front property line with parking spaces in the back, along Poor Farm Ditch, and;
*would not include a parking garage in Town Center, or any other area of West U.
Schueppert said the zoning ordinance “is based on the false premise that all use is the same.”
She complained that the new zoning ordinance would allow the businesses in Town Center to “expand from about 8,500 square feet to 20,000 square feet, while maintaining their 52 parking spaces.”
Schueppert and others claimed that “developers” wanted the changes to the Town Center area.
“The city needs to keep zoning control for our town and not let developers write the rules,” Schueppert said.
Spyros Maragos, who earlier had sent out an email to several other West U residents claiming that the Town Center was being eyed by developers for a “shopping mall,” complained of “conflicts of interest” for Mayor Fry, and noted his absence from the meeting. Fry was out of town.
“I had hoped the citizens of West U would get an explanation about this conflict of interest,” Maragos said.
Darrin Ackerman noted that Sample had voted against the zoning change, “and everyone else is for it. Something is not right.”
“This kind of smells. There’s something being done here and it’s not right. It is the kind of issue that needs to go to a referendum,” Ackerman suggested.
After the meeting Schueppert said that she is seeking residents’ signatures on a petition to revoke the new zoning ordinance. “It calls for a repeal of the ordinance,” Schueppert said. “We have 90 days to collect signatures from 3 percent of registered voters.”