Monday, September 25, 2006

TOP STORY>>Townhouses given rezoning approval

IN SHORT: The Jacksonville City Council overrules the planning commission and gives the multi-residential development its approval.

Leader staff writer

Once-rejected plans for townhouses on Jacksonville’s West Main Street are still alive.

The city council Thursday night, in a 5-4 vote, approved the first reading on a new ordinance that would rezone three acres of land at Main and Emma streets for the purpose of building 35 townhouses.

“Is it right to favor the desire of a few over the decision of the planning commission and the desire of present area homeowners?” asked Lucian Shockey, a spokesman for residents against the rezoning.

The vote, taken after nearly an hour of lively, but respectable debate, brought a smattering of boos from the 100 or more residents at the meeting, prompting Mayor Tommy Swaim to announce, “That’s showing your character.”

To become law, the ordinance must pass three readings.

Swaim explained that if two-thirds of the aldermen had requested it, the council could have had a second and third reading at Thursday’s meeting. “It was clear the votes were not there, so we will have the second reading at our next meeting, Oct.
5,” Swaim said. “It’ll then be up to the council if we have the third reading that night or wait until the meeting after that.”

It is possible that council members could change their vote between the readings, but that doesn’t appear likely. Those for the rezoning and townhouses seemed pretty solid in their stance as did those opposing the idea.

Voting for the rezoning were Aldermen Kenny Elliott, Kevin McCleary, Reedie Ray, Bob Stroud and Bill Howard.

Opposing the rezoning were Aldermen Marshall Smith, Terry Sansing, Gary Fletcher and Avis Twitty.

Alderman Linda Rinker was absent.

Although planning commissioners liked the idea of townhouses, they felt this was neither the time nor the place for them, and clearly rejected the plans at their September meeting.

The builder Tim McClurg then got Alderman Stroud, who spoke for the plan at the planning commission, to appeal the commission’s decision at the council meeting.

Armed with his lawyer, engineer and architect, McClurg presented the plan to the council.

Architect Chad Young, a former planning commissioner, told the council that Jacksonville needed upscale homes like these townhouses as he presented drawings of a typical seven-unit townhouse.

Shockey, the spokesman for the large group of residents against the rezoning, reminded the council that 180 area neighbors had signed a petition against the rezoning.

“These signers live in all the subdivisions bordering West Main from Western Hills on the east to Tara Mount and Penn-pointe to the west,” Shockey said.

“This proposal and an earlier proposal, both to allow high density housing at this location have been rejected by the planning commission. We are all aware that there is a lot of real estate knowledge and experience vested in the commission and they take their work serious.”

So he had a hard time understanding why the council would consider overruling the commission.

Shockey also said that the townhouses would double the amount of traffic coming in and out of Main Street within a short space between two curves.

Shockey called West Main Street the “best-kept secret in Pulaski County” and said if this appeal was approved, “you would be approving a three-acre island in a large sea zoned R-0 (single family homes). If you approve this, then where is the incentive for current residents to talk up Jacksonville and invite others to locate here when zoning may likely change?”

Shockey asked the aldermen to think about three questions before voting on the issue: “Is it right to favor the desire of a few over the decision of the planning commission and the desire of present area owners? Will the next island created be next to me? If good government is responsive to the people, how is my vote addressing that enduring principle?”

Both Aldermen Gary Fletcher and Terry Sansing expressed concerns about the duty to represent the people.

“I got elected to represent the people and should be more ears than voice,” Fletcher said.

Sansing, agreeing, said, “It seems we give more consideration to the people that might move here rather than to the ones already here.”

But Alderman Kenny Elliott looked at the situation differently. “I’ve got to make the best decision for the growth and development of Jacksonville. Without tough decisions we will not grow. We won’t make everyone happy, but we have to look at the future of the city,” he said.