Jackson board wrestles with future of city-owned lot

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The issue of what to do with a valuable city-owned lot brought out some strong opinions Monday night among the Jackson Board of Aldermen.

Several months ago, the aldermen voted to change the zoning of a residential property at the corner of Donna Drive and East Jackson Boulevard to commercial property.

The decision was made despite strong protest by many members of the adjoining neighborhood.

At Monday night's study session, Jackson Chamber of Commerce executive director Ken Parrett told the board that there was some interest in the city-owned lot at the same intersection, just across from the property that was recently rezoned.

Parrett advised the council that if it were interested in changing the zoning, he would recommend that the bid requirements include that the new owner of the property generate sales tax, a residual benefit to the community.

A heated debate then ensued on how the city should go about the process.

In all zoning requests, the owner of the property must request the zoning change.

Alderman Kerry Hoffman said he was uncomfortable with that idea. He said the city's planning and zoning commission should decide how the property should be zoned.

"Are we not putting the cart before the horse?" he asked.

Alderwoman Barbara Lohr, who once served on the commission, said planning and zoning will only vote yes or no, not make a general recommendation.

Hoffman then suggested that the council go ahead and make the request for a change to commercial, not necessarily because he wants it to be commercial, but because he believes these issues should be hashed out in the proper order -- starting with planning and zoning. He said planning and zoning should make a recommendation.

"We can ask for planning and zoning to look at the request and they can always say that the best use is for professional zoning," Hoffman said.

"They will vote nay or yea, but they will not change the zoning," Lohr responded.

Lohr then questioned Hoffman's willingness to make an on-the-spot recommendation to send a zoning request to planning and zoning when he recently voted against a bakery's plea for a zoning change on property near his home.

Hoffman said that was different because it was the depth of the property that was an issue. The city's lot is well within the 250-foot guidelines established in the city's overall zoning plan.

Lohr, citing her own personal experience with zoning near her home, also stated that she believes the city is unfairly taking residential property one lot at a time.

She said property owners in her neighborhood were told several years ago that a "once and for all" decision had been made. Now, the same zoning issues are popping up again.

"You say you want to do what's best for 12,000," she said. "But individuals still have rights."

Once the conversation cooled off somewhat, most of the aldermen agreed that the council would have to request a specific zoning. However, Hoffman asked city attorney Tom Ludwig to research the matter to see if the council can make an open-ended zoning request to the planning and zoning commission.

The lot in question is in one of the most highly visible traffic areas in town. Currently, the lot is empty, with a drainage ditch running across it. Public works director Rodney Bollinger told the council that the city had no plans for the lot to be used for public infrastructure.



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