Mt. Pleasant City Council says no to rezoning requestContradiction of city comprehensive plan cited
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Emilie DeWulf’s dream of a mini riding school will have to be dreamt elsewhere. It will not happen on West Clay Street in Mt. Pleasant.
DeWulf had plenty of supporters packing the Mt. Pleasant City Council chambers Wednesday night but the supporters were unable to sway the council which voted unanimously against DeWulf’s rezoning request to, among other things, allow up to 10 horses on a portion of her 27-acre tract.
DeWulf said this morning she was disappointed in the council’s decision. “I think there should have been a second reading,” she remarked. “The city council didn’t vote with their heads but with their hearts. I just think it was disrespectful not to have a second reading.”
Council members, prior to voting, said they were concerned that rezoning would contradict the city’s comprehensive plan, which is a city’s “bible” for development.
“It seems that Planning & Zoning did not pay enough attention to the comprehensive plan,” Councilman Steve Engberg said. “I think they put a lot more emphasis on the people supporting it than against it. I think going to agriculture in that area is a step backward…We need to take the emotion out of it and go with what is best for the city and that is not going back to agriculture.”
In her rezoning application, DeWulf had asked that a portion of the property she resides on (27 acres owned by the Dixon family) be rezoned from R-1 (single family) and B-4 (highway service commercial) to AR (agricultural-residential reserve) to “teach (horse) riding on a small scale.”
DeWulf said she is an avid horse person and the small business “contributes to the city’s desire to encourage young people to return to the community and benefits the community as a positive recreational option. Both riding and equine therapy are proven methods to encourage self-esteem, emotional stability, independence and social skills, proper posture, increased physical stamina and the develop gross and fine motor skills…I would like to provide this on a small scale to the City of Mt. Pleasant.”
Her quest for rezoning started, ironically, with a visit to city hall last winter to seek a permit to build a fence. During that visit, she was told that zoning of her property does not conform to her plans for a riding school. That led her to request rezoning, a request which was made in early January.
Since that time, the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission has met several times on the matter and at a meeting in March did approve the rezoning request with certain conditions.
Some of the conditions included:
• There shall be permitted the use for riding lessons, stables and facilities and structures appropriate to that use and structures appropriate to the keeping of the permitted livestock.
• The keeping of livestock is limited to the following: Not to exceed 10 horses, eight goats and/or sheep and 20 chickens (no roosters).
• No animals shall be pastured or confined in the yard located south of the house and west of the driveway.
• No animals shall be pastured or confined south of the barn.
• Any structures to keep animals, a horse-riding arena or related accessory buildings shall not be located south of the existing barn, south of the house or on one other lot of the parcel of lot.
Supporters of DeWulf swelled the council chambers, causing a need for more chairs. They, through written and verbal communication, described DeWulf as a hard-working, passionate and energetic animal lover.
Gene McWhirter, a commercial property owner in the area, said he was apprehensive initially about DeWulf’s plans but after hearing her discuss her views during a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting became a believer.
“I know that horses have boarded there (in the past) for city officials. She has been honest forward and I think it is great for someone to come back here and start a business,” McWhirter said. “Let’s help her do it. We need it. I have the property closest to it and my property is more valuable than any around it…Let’s respect and help her.”
Laura Miller, a neighbor, said she has become friends with DeWulf in recent months. “I support her and all her aspirations for the property. She is hard-working and young. I support her fully.”
Alan Raymer said the majority of the neighbors are in favor of her plans. “I trust her to do it right,” he said.
Mike Vance, DeWulf’s attorney, said the rezoning would benefit the city. “We have worked pretty hard with Planning & Zoning to come to an agreement. She is bringing something to the city that is useful to the citizens and people visiting the community.
Although there was no opposition voiced during the hearing, some concerns were expressed through written communication.
Ed and Mary Longanecker said in a letter that “it is unclear as to how this zoning change request, if approved, would reflect the council’s charge to ensure its actions are ‘for the betterment of the city and its communities.’ The city pays handsomely for its ‘comprehensive plan’ which is future focused. This backward zoning change would be in direct contradiction to the current and past comprehensive plans.”
The Longaneckers also said that “in the view of many, to accept this zoning change action will be a clear action of ‘spot zoning,’ something the city tries hard to avoid.’”
City Administrator Brent Schleisman and his wife, Suellen, through written communication, also asked that the request be denied.
“The last four city comprehensive plans adopted by the city show this entire area to be developed as single family housing,” the Schlesimans wrote. “An agricultural zoning district allows the raising of family animals, including chickens, hogs, cattle, goats, horses etc. It also could allow dog kennels for raising, breeding and boarding of dogs or other small animals. We do not believe that these types of uses are compatible with the existing and future use of this area and we are very concerned if this zoning classification occurs that this will harm the resale value of our home.”
In a report to the council, city Zoning Administrator Barb Welander (who was unable to attend last night’s meeting) urged the council to proceed cautiously.
“What needs to be considered is the effect of a zone change from residential to agricultural. While we know what the intent of the existing owner is, the use could change drastically if the property changes hands in the future. The AR classification will allow the property to revert back to more agricultural use (farming) if the existing owner or if a new owner should decide to do so.
“…In conclusion, it is the responsibility of the city council to uphold the comprehensive plan as developed and adopted. It is important to consider how a zone change will benefit the community as a whole and whether it will provide orderly continuity in the development of the community,” Welander wrote.
The council did make reference to the comprehensive plan many times during its discussion following the hearing.
“This is one of the toughest decisions I have had to make as a council member,” reported Deb Savage. “…We have to have a comprehensive plan by law and that is what we look at for zoning regulations. If we change zoning regulations, we have to change it for a good reason. I see both sides of it, but you have to vote with your heart, not your head.”
Councilman Stan Curtis said that ever since he has been on council (16 years0, the area has been developed with the intent that it will be residential district. “We have planned streets, water and sewer for residential development. You don’t want spot zoning or regressive zoning. I want to keep the (comprehensive) plan because we have put a lot of time into it. I would like to see her have her business outside the city. I really have trouble accepting changes to the plan we have worked on so diligently.”
Following the unanimous vote to deny the request, Mayor Steve Brimhall and Planning & Zoning Chairman Ed Seggerman thanked the council for their thoughtful consideration of the matter.
“These people (audience members) deserve a lot of credit. They made compelling arguments on the other side and the council made compelling arguments not to change it,” Brimhall said. “…The comprehensive plan is not be taken lightly. You don’t change it on a whim. We adhere to this book (comprehensive plan) when developing Mt. Pleasant.”
Seggerman said he did not agree with the action of his commission. “I would like to thank the council for its vote. I did not agree with what Planning & Zoning did. You are right, it does not agree with the city’s comprehensive plan.”
The rezoning request cannot be made again for at least one year, Brimhall said, adding that the comprehensive plan will be subject to review in 2015.
Council members meet again in regular session Wednesday, May 8, at 7 p.m. in City Hall.