• July 22, 2014

Neighbors join forces against Heights zoning request

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Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014 4:30 am

After a heated and lengthy public hearing to rezone a parcel of land on Cedar Knob Road from single-family residential to a secondary business district, three neighbors left Tuesday’s City Council meeting victorious.

Dr. John C. Robinson, 70, Thurman Brown Jr., 54, and Jimmy Lewis, 54, aired their grievances and pleaded their case to council members as to why the land directly in front of their homes should not be rezoned for commercial use.

“I moved out here eight and a half years ago for peace and quiet,” Robinson said. “When we all moved in, the land was zoned residential and we want to keep it that way.”

After receiving a notification letter in the mail about the request, all three neighbors attended the April 30 Planning and Zoning meeting to state their case.

“Despite our concerns, they voted unanimously to rezone that land, leaving us no choice but to give it our all before the city council,” he said after the meeting.

Robinson, Brown and Lewis all spoke before the council Tuesday, pleading with them to rule in their favor.

When Robinson addressed the council, he said he felt the rezoning process was racially insensitive because all three residences affected are owned by African-Americans and that it’s being done intentionally to “devalue” their properties and “deface the area.”

“I hear that and I am choosing to be offended at that, and that you would think that someone would do that,” Mayor Rob Robinson said in response. “Your comments are noted.”

John C. Robinson and Brown also took issue on how the city posted the rezoning notice.

“You have frontage on two major roadways, so why would you post a sign on a road that talks to no one?” John C. Robinson asked the mayor and council. “People are driving 60 mph on Stillhouse Hollow Lake Road and they won’t see it. The sign should have been placed on Cedar Knob for the people who will be affected, because we drive on that road everyday.”

Needing clarification, the mayor turned to City Attorney Burk Roberts for advice.

“The property has to be posted, yes, but there is not a legal requirement that it face a certain roadway,” Roberts said.

By law, city staff sent out 16 notices to property owners within the 400-foot notification area. Because the two responses that were filed in opposition comprised more than 20 percent of the area within the 200-foot buffer ring, a three-fourths approval vote from the council was required for the request to pass, regardless of the Planing and Zoning Commission’s recommendation, according to the city’s code of ordinances.

“I don’t have a problem with (Stillhouse Hollow Lake Road) being commercial property ... but nothing on the Cedar Knob side. Why not leave it residential, which is what it was originally intended for,” Brown said. “No one is being affected by this except us. Put yourself in our position.”

Newly-elected Councilman John Reider recused himself from the rezoning vote because of “professional conflicts of interest.” Councilman Sam Murphey abstained from voting because he wasn’t “satisfied with the discussion,” so the request to rezone the property was denied.

“I didn’t feel comfortable making a decision when all three property (owners) were present and the landowner wasn’t,” Murphey said.

The issue is far from over though, as the property owner can amend the request and try again.

“If the landowner wants to develop the Stillhouse side of his property, that’s fine with us, we just don’t want to have a liquor store or a McDonald’s in front of our homes,” John C. Robinson said. “We can live with a housing development coming in because that’s what this area was originally zoned for. We are the tax payers, we are the voters and our concerns should be taken into account.”

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