2008-10-23 / News

Merchants question zoning ordinance amendments

By Sam Bari

A group of Chamber of Commerce members attended the Oct. 15 Planning Commission meeting to question ordinance changes suggested by the planning office. Those who were most vocal about the suggested changes were concerned about diminishing property values and drastic changes coming to the downtown area.

Gail Sheahan, owner of Consistent Care, a home health care agency at 8 Clinton Ave., said that she was more qualified than anyone on her street to be a T-5. She had the required parking spaces and zero setbacks.

"Now you're going to relax the setbacks and the number of parking spaces required by designating the area where my property is as a T-4 zone. I worked hard to be a CD, and now you're going to take that away from me. Now I can't expand. If you're going to make Randall Galleries a T-5, then I want to be designated as a T-5 as well. I am not happy about this at all," she said.

"Anyone who bought property before this change should be grandfathered in for as long as we keep the property, and stay the same that we were when we bought it," she said. "This change doesn't benefit me at all. It benefits the Randalls. They went from a CL to a T-5, but it doesn't benefit me. What I see is you're trying to take my land away from me," she added.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer suggested that Sheahan pick up and read a copy of the proposed ordinance and plan so that she can fully understand what is being recommended.

Bryer said there were good reasons for the creation of T-4 and T-5 zones. The commission was looking for more relaxed setbacks in the transition areas as far back as when the downtown vision project was put out to bid. She said that was the reason for creating the T-4 and T-5 designations.

"We would like see the T4 areas, which are commercial, have among other things, more relaxed setbacks so it is obvious that they are in a transitional zone from a commercial area to a residential area. We don't want it to appear as if the change from one area to the next is abrupt," Bryer said.

Jack Brittain, owner of Jack's Electric on Clinton Avenue, argued that the changes were not consistent with what occurred at the charrettes.

"I was at every charrette meeting," Brittain said. "I heard everybody say that they wanted to preserve Jamestown as it is. The people want everything to stay the same. This is not staying the same," Brittain added. "These are drastic changes. I hope they are not being made to justify the money spent on the charrettes."

During his speech to the commission, Brittain said that he never heard the words "zoning change." He challenged anyone who attended the meetings to come forth and say so if they heard "zoning change" mentioned.

Commissioner Richard Ventrone explained that to make some of the changes that were suggested by people who attended the charrettes, revisions in the zoning ordinances would be required.

Commissioner Jean Brown asked Bryer, "Do you have the ability to literally change somebody's zoning like that?"

"With Town Council approval, yes," Bryer said.

"But we would never want to do that. We would never want to diminish anybody's property value in this process," Brown said.

Bryer agreed, and said that was certainly not the intent. She also said that it was important for everyone to fully understand the suggested achieve before jumping to any conclusions.

After additional discussion and input from several other business and property owners, commissioner Michael Swistak motioned to not reduce any property presently zoned as CD to any designation less than T-5. The motion carried with a unanimous vote.

However, the commissioners agreed that possibly changing T-3 designations to T-4 and T-4 areas to T-5 required further discussion.

Bryer said afterwards that she hoped the meeting would encourage more people to attend. "That's why we're here, to discuss suggested changes and decide together whether we want them." She said that if the town wants changes, they have to decide together how they want the changes made.

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