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Council, planners square off

Staff writer

A longstanding debate on whether a section of the city’s industrial park should be rezoned for retail came to an abrupt end Monday when council members thumbed their nose at the city’s zoning commission and voted to rezone the property themselves.

However, the zoning commission’s chairman called a special meeting scheduled for tonight to potentially challenge the action.

The dispute goes back to July, when council members voted 3-2 to sell a V-shaped parcel of land on N. Roosevelt St. to Family Dollar for $10,000.

The land not only was zoned for industry, not commerce, but also was formally reserved for drainage and utilities as a buffer.

The zoning commission declined to rezone the area or adjacent property for retail use despite pressure from mayor David Mayfield and city administrator Roger Holter.

Mayfield and Holter appeared at a zoning commission meeting with a map of the area they wanted rezoned, but zoning commissioners were not impressed.

Zoning administrator Margo Yates told council members Monday the commission did recommend rezoning a strip along US-56 for general commercial use but declined to rezone the south side of the industrial park, a second location that Family Dollar now wants to build.

Council member Zach Collett said it sounded to him as if the planning commission didn’t want to work with the council.

“We specifically asked them to rezone it,” mayor David Mayfield said testily.

Collett expressed irritation.

“I really, really do appreciate the work they are doing, but I really think we need to take a hard look at our zoning regulations,” he said.

Council member Ruth Herbel asked what regulations say about so-called spot zoning.

“You’re not supposed to do that,” Yates said.

But Holter contended the city was not asking for “spot zoning.”

Collett said Marion zoning regulations were strict in comparison to other cities.

“Our dilemma is this — Family Dollar needs to get started,” Mayfield said.

Despite acknowledging in a purchase agreement last fall that a conditional use permit was needed and would be its responsibility to obtain, Family Dollar did not submit an application for a conditional use permit until Monday. Holter said this was because of confusion over who owned the property, which still hasn’t formally changed hands.

Holter said Family Dollar “needs” to be operating in Marion in June.

“As the governing body … you are the ultimate authority,” Holter told council members.

He said had right to call a hearing and make a decision.

“In my opinion, you can go ahead and hold a public hearing,” city attorney Brian Bina said.

Council members set the public hearing for their Feb. 22 council meeting.

But planning commission chairman Terry Jones was not happy with the council’s decision.

“I thought the planning and zoning commission’s wishes and desires were not adequately expressed to the city council,” Jones said Tuesday.

He said he was frustrated that council members thought the commission had “taken too long” when the commission meets once a month.

“We’re a 100% volunteer commission,” Jones said. “But more important, there are state statutes that govern what can be done.”

He was not happy with Yates, either.

“Our zoning administrator is clearly influenced by the city administrator because she’s employed by the city,” he said.

Jones said the land should not be rezoned before Family Dollar’s application for a conditional use permit is acted upon.

“I am calling a special meeting for 7 p.m. Wednesday,” Jones said.

One of the items to be discussed is that the commission has authority to appoint its own secretary — a job now filled by Yates.

Council also voted Monday to change zoning regulations by scaling back the required distance between a businesses that serves alcohol and a church, school, or hospital.

That change was made because JR Hatters got a cereal malt beverage license in December even though her store is within 300 — but not 200 — feet of Valley United Methodist Church.

Council members later questioned whether they had misunderstood owner Johsie Reid’s intentions.

Reid had told the council that beer would be served in relation to bachelor parties, fittings, and other community events. She later posted on social media about “The Branding Bar” being open.

Bina told council members Monday that since Reid’s cereal malt beverage license already had been issued, it would be grandfathered in until it came time for license renewal.

Herbel proposed changing the city’s distance requirement to 200 feet to match state law. The council vote was unanimous.

Last modified Feb. 9, 2022

 

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