Leader Blues

Saturday, October 21, 2006

TOP STORY >>Jacksonville council pulls rezoning issue as votes aren't there

IN SHORT: Alderman Bob Stroud, sponsor of the ordinance, will decide when it will have its third and final reading.

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

“Corrupt government,” a resident hollered out Thursday at the end of the Jacksonville City Council meeting that saw the third and final reading of a rezoning ordinance pulled from the agenda.

The ordinance would allow developer Tim McClurg to build 35 townhouses on three acres of land south of west Main Street and west of Emma.

Alderman Gary Fletcher asked the mayor and the council why it was pulled.

“It was pulled according to the rules of order,” Mayor Tommy Swaim explained, meaning that it was pulled by the sponsor of the ordinance, Alderman Bob Stroud.

Fletcher asked again, looking for more of an answer. “Can’t I ask why?” he said.

Stroud replied that Fletcher could ask, “but I don’t have to answer.”

Alderman Terry Sansing be-lieves the ordinance was pulled because it didn’t have the votes to pass Thursday night, as two aldermen who were for the rezoning—Linda Rinker and Reedie Ray—were absent.

The ordinance should be on the agenda for the council’s first November meeting, but it’ll be Stroud’s decision as to when it comes back up, and he was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment. The planning commission in September turned down the controversial rezoning request, but McClurg appealed the decision to the council.

Stroud sponsored the ordinance to repeal the commission’s decision and approve the rezoning. For an ordinance to become law it must pass three readings.

In late September, the council passed the rezoning ordinance 5-4 (Rinker was absent). It passed the second reading on Oct. 4 by a 6-4 vote, and was on Thursday’s agenda for the third reading.

Planning commissioner Emma Knight told the council Oct. 4 that the commission had already turned down the rezoning request. She said she would resign if the measured passed through the council.

“I sell upscale homes,” she said. “These townhouses are not upscale. I don’t think this is the best plan for Jacksonville. We do not need these.”

“I will resign, mayor, if this passes,” she said.

Knight recently told the Leader that she stands by her plans to resign. She calls it a trust issue.

“The council entrusted us to make decisions, and now they don’t trust us.” She said when “you don’t trust someone you should replace them or have them go away.”

She plans to go away. “I’ve got too many other meetings and commitments,” she added.

Knight said that the commission covered all the issues involved or connected with this rezoning—traffic, wetlands, drainage, flooding density of dwellings, along with the number of local residents demanding, “that we protect them.”

“It was not a hard decision, not a close decision,” she said. The commission turned down the rezoning request by a 5-to-1 vote at the commission’s September meeting.

Looking out at the large crowd of residents Thursday, which t has shown up at each council meeting to oppose the issue, Fletcher said that he was concerned about the fairness of pulling the ordinance. “These people out here have expended their valuable time to be here,” he said.

In the first two readings, Sansing and Fletcher, along with Aldermen Marshall Smith and Avis Twitty have voted against the rezoning. The remaining six aldermen—Kenny Elliott, Kevin McCleary, Reedie Ray, Linda Rinker (she missed the first vote), Bill Howard and Bob Stroud—voted for the rezoning.

Stroud has pointed out that the developer could, under the current zoning, build cheap 900-square-foot homes, without seeking the commission’s or the council’s approval.

“But he’s not doing that, Stroud said, he wants to build upscale 1,500-square foot townhouses that will sell for about $166,000.

“We need this type of upscale housing,” Stroud said at the Oct. 4 meeting, before introducing the ordinance for its second reading.

Fletcher, a contractor by trade, said, “Starter homes sell for $150,000 to $160,000. These townhouses are not upscale homes.”

In other council business:

- In his monthly report, Fire Chief John Vanderhoof said that his department responded to 114 rescue calls, 47 still alarms, 17 general alarms and had 214 ambulance runs during September.

- Public Works Director Jim Oakley told the council that the animal shelter received 130 dogs and 87 cats during September. Forty dogs and six cats were returned to their owners, while dogs and 39 cats were adopted. Shelter officials euthanized 34 dogs and 39 cats.

- In his monthly report, Police Chief Robert Baker said they responded to 2,494 complaint calls and made 358 adult arrests.