Council Majority Stands Up to Overflow Opposing Crowd

Updated 5 years ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Council Majority Stands Up to Overflow Opposing Crowd

Huntington City Council stuck strictly by an interpretation of zoning law in voting to re-zone 2800 First Avenue as C-1, neighborhood commercial.  From their perspective, the building had been improperly rezoned R-2 in 1998, so this vote corrected a prior mistake.

Vocal residents crowded council chambers and most strongly objected to the change which could allow the petitioner to open a full service gun sales/repair/training  shop in a location … one  that has for 50 years has housed some kind of business. When St. Mary’s sold the property , they  specified that it  not sell alcoholic beverages.

Although the final vote was 7-3 (Jackson, Thacker, Williams dissent), some of those voting may have been influenced  by legalistic language. Theoretically, if the zoning interpretation had been read congruently in its totality, voting could have been closer.  

C-1 INCLUDES ‘BEST SENSE OF COMMUNITY’

As Councilwoman Frances Jackson  pointed out,  the C-1 zoning designation goes beyond a mere listing of possible uses. The definition includes “while maintaining and promoting the best sense of community” under neighborhood commercial.  That  appears to balance the body’s authority in  voting on a popularity rubric that placed planning consistency above residential concerns.

Councilman Steve Williams advised that the zoning process is so broken “the residents, the petitioner and the community had been ill-served.” He concluded the issue should have been referred back to the planning department .

However, councilman Scott Caserta asked “Do we not issue any more permits until it is fixed,” suggesting that the 1998 map contains numerous non-conforming use exceptions.  In fact, Steve Golder, an attorney representing the petitioner, told council “the property was zoned R-2 in 1998 for reasons I do not understand.”

Actually, Williams for two-and-a-half years has consistently voted against  zoning variances . His root position came from a nothing has been proposed to fix the system and council continues voting on exceptions, which in effect multiply the initial problem.

 “I have stated that until the system is changed , the staff should only bring before the Board of Zoning appeals, the planning commission and subsequently city council, a consideration of the effect of the zoning revision would have on the neighborhood and its relation to the city’s comprehensive plan.”

MISSED OPPORTUNITY IN 2011?

For instance, in  June 2011, council voted down a possible $5 million dollar  upscale apartment gated community development on Eighth Avenue due to community  fears that the re-zoned location might in the future deteriorate from how it was envisioned.  Traffic flow, size and density were also an issue.

The former Waggoner Brothers property had been vacant for ten years.  Previously zoned industrial, the developer requested R-5 which would have allowed apartment type discretion.

At that time, Williams noted “state law and the city charter requires [that council] approve a change in the [comprehensive] plan” for approval of a variance.  He asked that , if approved, the comprehensive plan findings be included. City attorney Scott McClure said that the test for re-zoning was met due to the long period of dormancy.  http://www.huntingtonnews.net/5167 , http://www.huntingtonnews.net/5906 , http://www.huntingtonnews.net/5980

When the gated community proposal came to a vote in July 2011, the council vetoed the development in a 5-5 tie vote.

ZONING CONTEMPLATES FOREVER

Following the Monday September 25 council meeting,  Williams explained, “We should never consider the validity of a specific business proposal because the business may not always be located in the property. Once the zoning provision is changed, it will never revert  back to its original use, even if the proposed business in the variance [ceases] to  exist. “

But  re-zoning extends beyond the life of a specific business. Hence, the forward thinking argument that a specific use only lasts for the life of the business.  Zoning alterations impact future generations.

During a recess Susan Gillette, who opposed the change, felt like council’s mind had been made up before hearing the neighborhood’s  stern objections.   A current zoning map illustrated the convoluted process, which has the entire St. Mary’s Hospital campus zoned as R-2. Yet, other properties located next or near 2800 First Avenue have C-1 zoning.

HIGHLAWN NEIGHBORHOOD MEMBER VOWS MORE ACTION

Gillette explained  that the petitioner has already purchased nearby property that  “is already zoned C-1,” indicating the gun shop could have been opened without a zoning vote and despite neighborhood opposition, a  few doors down.

Prior to the vote, she asked that “council not kill the community” and , instead, “work with them.”

After the vote, she vowed, “We are not done. That’s called spot zoning and it is illegal.”

When the controversy first boiled,  the petitioner stated   that he will be a Glock dealer. According to their webpage, Glock provides professional training to law enforcement, military, licensed security and other personnel… Glock pistols are used by many law enforcement agencies around the world and “safe action” classes are held throughout the United States and Canada.

A PRO BUSINESS DECISION

Douglas Franklin, a representative of the Huntington TEA Party, praised council’s business-friendly determination.  

“As an avid pro-capitalist, I do not think Huntington is in the position to turn down any business.  Over the last year and a half, we have lost 41 businesses inside the city. We should be welcoming business with open arms.  It’s a shame that we have some people that don’t feel that way, then wonder why we don’t have the money for city services.”

Referring to arguments pertaining to best usage, Sullivan asked, “it’s been empty for how long? Is that the best usage?  We just got through tearing down houses and condemned properties. Do we want to give them a hard time for investing money and bringing a business in to the city?”

A DISGUISED SECOND AMENDMENT UP OR DOWN?

Residents continually referred to the proximity of the proposed gun shop to a church, school bus stop, hospital and  individual residences across the street. 

Although councilman Nate Randolph agreed with the “a broken process” assessment, he insisted the neighborhood debate should not be about the business, adding, “this [has become] a proxy issue on the Second Amendment at a City Council meeting in Huntington, W.Va.”

Randolph had supported the gated community as best for the city,  in spite of constituent standing room only opposition.

 

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