Leader Blues

Monday, October 09, 2006

TOP STORY>>Rezoning issue still alive by 6-4 vote

IN SHORT: Jacksonville planning commissioner Emma Knight threatens to resign if her panel’s decision against proposed townhouses is overruled.

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council, against the will of a packed room of residents, voted Thursday to approve the rezoning of three acres of land off West Main Street so that townhouses may be built on the property on a second reading.

Before the rezoning becomes law it must pass the council one more time.

But the developer Tim McClurg is so sure of its passing, that he is on the planning commission’s agenda for Monday to seek preliminary approval of his plan for 35 townhouses and 25 single-family homes to be built on acreage west of Emma Street and south off West Main Street.

But the council vote may have cost the city a planning commissioner.

Commissioner Emma Knight told the council that the commission had already turned down the rezoning request twice. 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 said the townhouses have been touted as great retirement homes, but in a survey of people aged 50 and older she conducted, “no one wanted to live in them.”

“I’ve been on the council for 26 years,” said Alderman Marshall Smith, “ and have always supported the planning commission, and I don’t plan to stop tonight.”

Smith was one of four aldermen who voted against the rezoning request. Also voting against the request were Aldermen Terry Sansing, Gary Fletcher and Avis Twitty. The remaining six aldermen—Kenny Elliott, Kevin McCleary, Reedie Ray, Linda Rinker, Bill Howard and Bob Stroud—voted for the rezoning.

The issue was brought before the council in late September after the planning commission turned it down.

The ordinance passed one reading at the council’s Sept. 21 meeting by a 5-4 vote, but needed to be passed in three readings before becoming law.

At Thursday’s meeting the council passed it for the second time, by a 6-4 vote, with the mayor not casting a vote. The council needed seven votes to suspend the rules and place the item back on the agenda for the third reading. The votes were not there, so the matter will be voted on again for the third and final time at the council’s Oct. 19 meeting.

Alderman Stroud, a proponent of the townhouse plan, told the council that it “can’t tell a developer what to build. He could build 900-square-foot homes out there, but that’s not what he’s trying to do.

“We need this type of upscale housing,” Stroud added, 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.”
The developer has said that 1,500-square-foot townhouses would sell for about $166,000.

Sansing, who is against the project for a host of reasons, including that two other townhouse projects in the area did not pan out and have become rental property, said that the council needed to listen to the people. “They are in fear of traffic problems, congestion and falling property values,” he said.

Knight added that the property values wouldn’t fall initially, but that they would fall.

Lucian Shockey, a spokesman for residents near the land planned for the townhouses, said residents feared these townhouses would turn into rental property. He added that military people would prefer to live on bases rather than buy the planned townhouses.

One of the residents’ concerns had to do with water run-off and plans for a retention pond. “Where will the water go during heavy rains?” he asked.

Shockey also said that the planned pond would cost the city more money as a longer bridge would have to be built eventually on that part of Main Street because of the added water.

Once the ordinance passed the second reading, nearly all of the residents clamored out of the meeting and grouped into discussion groups in front of city hall. They plan to research options and if possible continue the fight against the townhouses.