Shipley Rezoning Spurs Change To Public Hearing Procedure

March 23, 2010

Residents will get another chance in May to give feedback on an application to rezone the Shipley Donuts tract on Kirby Drive after the West University Place City Council on Monday voted to call a second public hearing.

Along the way the council decided to change its procedures on calling and closing public hearings, after the rezoning applicant raised questions because comments continued streaming in after the first public hearing in early February. From now on when the city calls public hearings, officials will not officially close the hearings at the end so that residents can continue providing feedback until the council issues final votes at later meetings.

“The action we just took was to call another public hearing to allow you and your neighbors and anyone that’s interested in the city to come and speak,” said Councilman George Boehme.

In November 2009 the owner of the Shipley property at 5800 Kirby Dr., Bob Orkin of Kirby Retail Fund Ltd., asked the city to rezone his land so he can tear down the old Shipley building and construct a Potbelly Sandwich Works. Although the land is zoned as a townhouse district, Shipley has operated commercially as a pre-existing, non-conforming use. Orkin would lose that exception if he constructed a new building for Potbelly, so rezoning is necessary to reach his goals.

At the first public hearing in February, many residents reacted negatively to the rezoning application because they said they feared the sandwich restaurant would bring traffic, parking problems, noise and trash. Some residents said they bought their homes near the tract because they knew it was a townhouse district, and they held out hope the land would one day be residential.

At the next meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, residents spoke out about similar concerns. City Manager Michael Ross said Orkin’s attorney, Reid Wilson, had questions about whether additional public comment was actually legal, since the city council and the commission had officially closed the public hearings in February.

Ross said after researching the question, City Attorney Alan Petrov found that Wilson was right: Public comment on an issue is not allowed after the official closing of a public hearing.

Because the council still wanted to hear what residents have to say on the rezoning application, they decided to change the city’s procedure and leave public hearings open until a final vote closes the matter for good.

Councilman Steven Segal cast the lone vote against calling another public hearing about the Shipley tract, because he said the city needs to examine its rules on prior nonconforming status first and call another hearing afterwards.

“I feel there may be a domino effect here and if we take action on one property we may find ourselves in a box,” Segal said. “I think it would make more sense to wait until we have a better idea about where we want to go on this issue.”

Two residents of Tangley Road, just blocks from Shipley Donuts, signed up to speak about the rezoning application but the council told them they couldn’t speak until the next public hearing in May. However, both residents chose to comment generally to express themselves instead of specifically mentioning 5800 Kirby Dr.

“I would like to remind city council that the city of West University Place is a city of homes first and primarily, and a city of commercial entities secondarily,” said David Kyle. “I would like to ask city council not to be so quick to rush to judgments, whatever those may be, and to consider at all times, under all circumstances to consider their constituents and their residents.”

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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