Shipley Rezoning Stalls In Commission

February 15, 2010

After considering negative resident comments from a public hearing last week, members of a city commission are at an impasse over whether to recommend that the city rezone the Shipley Donuts tract on Kirby Drive.

Because there was no consensus at a Feb. 11 meeting, the final recommendation must wait until at least March 11, when the West University Place Zoning and Planning Commission will again discuss an application to rezone the tract at 5800 Kirby Dr. from a townhouse district to a commercial zone.

The rezoning will allow Bob Orkin of Kirby Retail Fund Ltd. to demolish the old Shipley store and construct a new building for Potbelly Sandwich Works. Some commission members became concerned about rezoning the land after hearing public comments at a hearing on Feb. 8.

“I just think this is a big, complicated issue and it’s not so cut and dry,” said Commissioner DeDe DeStefano. “I think we need to give it some really sincere thought.”

West U. residents surrounding the tract voiced concerns about traffic, parking, trash and noise. Many said they always hoped that one day there would be a town home, since the land is zoned in the townhouse district.

Rosemary Beauvais attended the commission meeting to reinforce that point. She lives in the 5900 block of Lake Street, near the Meineke Car Care Center, which is also zoned in the townhouse district.

“I thought I could outlast that Meineke,” Beauvais said. “If you recommend this, you’re breaking faith with me as a homeowner.”

The Meineke tract is not up for discussion, but Beauvais was worried that the commission would set a precedent by supporting the Shipley rezoning request.

Although it’s officially in a residential zone, the Shipley store operates with an exception as a pre-existing, nonconforming commercial use. Orkin’s company could switch tenants as long as it didn’t change the footprint of the old building. But Potbelly will refuse to move in without a new structure.

City Planner Debbie Scarcella said it’s doubtful that any developer could create an economically viable town home on the Shipley lot. The tract is already somewhat small, and a town home developer would be forced to follow residential building codes for off-street parking, garage space, green space and more.

“That’s a lot of area there that can’t be used for habitable space,” Scarcella said. “It isn’t going to work out so that it’s economical.”

Orkin has stressed that the Potbelly building would meet all the city’s commercial building codes and it would be more aesthetically pleasing than the Shipley store. Orkin and Potbelly representatives have shown a willingness to address residents’ concerns. For example, the Potbelly restaurant would have fences and landscaping to alleviate noise, and the company has negotiated agreements to share parking spots with other businesses for its employees.

But employee parking was another sticking point for Zoning and Planning commissioners at the Feb. 11 meeting, as a deluge of rain drummed the roof.

“I don’t see people parking at the Gallant Knight and walking blocks, probably, to get to their jobs,” said Commissioner Bob Higley, gesturing towards the falling rain. “On a night like this, they’re going to want to park there.”

Higley said he thought the employees would instead park on adjacent streets in West U.

Higley made a motion to officially table the discussion for the March meeting, but the motion was defeated in a 2-2 vote. Eventually though, after discussing concerns for more than two hours, the commission did move to other business and decided to reconsider the Shipley rezoning request next month. Whether the commission supports or opposes the application, the city council will make the final decision.

Reid Wilson, Orkin’s attorney, said that he and Orkin supported postponing the commission’s decision until next month.

“We don’t want to be seen like we’re trying to push this forward too quickly,” Wilson said.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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