Baldwin City Council denies downtown rezoning request
On Monday, an application to rezone a property on the southwest corner of High and Ninth streets that would have allowed a duplex to be built on the lot failed to win the Baldwin City Council’s approval, despite having the support of the majority of council members.
That seemingly contradictory outcome was the result of a successful petition drive against the rezoning from property owners in the west downtown neighborhood. That necessitated a super majority of 75-percent of the council approve the measure, or yes votes from 4-of-5 council members.
The lot at 903 High St. has been vacant since the city razed what remained of a house weeks after it was mostly destroyed by fire in April 2013. The application from Arthur Fletcher and Elaine Kiefer with Casey Simoneau acting as their agent came to the council with the Baldwin City Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval.
However since the planning commission’s 3-0 vote in favor of the rezoning the property from R-1 to R-1C, Stanley Braun led a successful protest petition opposing the rezoning.
The rezoning request only received support from three council members, Jason Mock, Shane Starkey and Ken Wagner. Councilwomen Christi Darnell and Kathy Gerstner voted no.
Darnell and Gerstner cited the neighbor’s objections and their concerns about the compatibility of the rezoning to the neighborhood as the reasons for their opposition. The depth of neighborhood dissatisfaction with the rezoning wasn’t known when the planning commission recommended the rezoning, they said. They also were concerned approval could set a precedent for future rezonings in the neighborhood.
In advocating for the rezoning, Wagner said he liked the application as in-fill development and thought a duplex appropriate for the larger corner lot. He also was concerned about overturning a planning commission recommendation.
“It’s a slippery slope when we deny planning commission’s recommendations,” he said. “We need to keep in mind the integrity of the planning commission. Those are people with no vested interest, who make decisions on what is best for the community.”
Mock reminded council members they were only considering the rezoning and shouldn’t be swayed by Simoneau’s proposals to build a duplex reflecting the character of the 1900-era homes in the neighborhood.
But Mock noted neighbors did have the assurance that the lot was in the city’s Old Town Overlay District. Developers of projects in the district are required to submit plans to the city to ensure that new structures are consistent with the historic flavor of the area with consideration giving to front porches, roof pitches and architectural embellishments. A requirement of new duplexes in the district is that they give the appearance of a single-family home.
Mock also said the council shouldn’t consider the neighbors’ expressed concerns about the quality of future renters. There was no way the city could control future residents of single- or multi-family residences nor their attention to the properties in which they live.
To that point, Wagner said some of the homes in the neighborhood were rentals and that some of those owner-occupied homes were in poorly kept up. Another concern was the length of time the lot could remain vacant should the council reject the rezoning, Wagner said, noting a lot at Ninth and Indiana has remained empty since a fire destroyed a house nearly a decade ago.
Braun, who carried the petition opposing the rezoning, said he was pleased with the council’s decision and vowed to work with Simoneau to help find something that worked for the neighbors and the developer.
“We just didn’t feel like it was best for the neighborhood,” he said. “He (Simoneu) had good intentions.”