Zoning Request for W. Sixth Avenue Anticipated for Withdrawal

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Zoning Request for W. Sixth Avenue Anticipated for Withdrawal
Photo by Glen Berry

Aside from the volatile occupation tax hearings or the on-going Westmoreland barge controversy, prospective zoning alterations tend to bring a pack the gallery night for Huntington City Council.

Vehement community input has occurred whether the debate concerned the Highlawn gun shop , re-use of Miller School, storage units, or luxury apartments. In February 2010, council amended zoning notification to those within 400 feet, rather than the previous 200 feet requirement.

As for battle lines, they inevitably pit longtime residents against a petitioner seeking economic development .

Council members have consistently resisted spot zoning, having tackled the 2800 First Avenue request after the long time business location remain shut down for a year which ran out the statute of limitations for continuing commercial operations there as a “non conforming use.”

At that time, then councilman Steve Williams stressed that despite the inflammatory nature of the business petitioner (for  a gun shop and training facility)  council should not approve a zoning change based on a particular type of business , rather, the zoning change should reflect “voting on the range of (future) uses of the site.”

Then, councilman Jim Insco asserted that the planning commission’s power does not make it responsible for a specific  type of business. Instead, the zoning matters fall under conformity with the Comprehensive 2025 plan for the city.

Fast forward to late December 2012. That’s when Toni Karle petitioned to have  33 to 215 W. Sixth Avenue rezoned so she could open a Tea Room in that area. However, the planning commission sent a 3-1 negative recommendation to the full council for its up or down vote.

Now, Mayor Steve Williams has hardened his position on zoning changes. Having benefitted from legislative legal research, city attorney Scott McClure advised that in 2004 the state legislature ruled the planning renders “advisory ” recommendations to council.

“If it comes from the planning commission, we are duty bound by law (to hear it),” Williams explained, stressing that zoning exceptions should go to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Once a petition is favored by the Planning Commission, Williams expounded that council in its wisdom must ask a question: “Would the change in zoning be consistent with the comprehensive plan? If we plan appropriately, there should be few adjustments to zoning for a specific neighborhood. There are ways to approach individual issues by a special exception. It would go before the board of zoning appeals, not council.

Newly elected council member Gary Bunn, who previously served in administrative capacities for the city, agreed that council should review only strategic plan alternations, not requests for a specific use by a specific individual in a specific business. As Williams reminded, the governing body must look at the “breadth” of the change(s) for the neighborhood, as the petitioning business could open and close in months, but the permission for a range of permitted businesses would not go away when the petitioner closes.

The Mayor has offered that the administration will provide training to council members on the conditions under which the governing body would be permitted to entertain a zoning change.

Under expressed “rules and regulations” Bunn and Williams said that 50% of those living in the neighborhood would have to sign a petition to bring an exception or special use  to the planning commission.

Referring to the current W. Sixth Avenue matter, Bunn indicated that the petitioner could not meet the offstreet parking requirements and the commission voted 3-1 not to recommend to the full council. In the future, only, positive recommendations would merit consideration by the body..

Bunn himself a former city planner told other council members, “We need to be tough as nails on re-zoning. It’s one of reasons we’ve lost 37,000. People keep moving out because  they can’t depend on (an area to remain consistent).”

Expectations are  that the W. Sixth Avenue request will be withdrawn. The petitioner will re-file asking only for a special exception for her proposed tea room, which may still be voted up or down.

Council meets tonight at 7:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.

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