Thursday, March 27, 2008
City rehashing zoning amendments
By SUE WATSON
The City of Holly Springs’ zoning ordinance amendments were put back on the drawing board at last week’s board of aldermen meeting.
Aldermen failed to override Mayor Andre’ DeBerry’s veto of a motion a few weeks ago to adopt the new amendments less a restriction that would have been placed on permitting churches in a B4 zone.
Church groups have protested the amendment on churches since the zoning amendments were made public.
Eleven churches were represented at the March 18 recessed meeting along with Oxford attorney Paul Watkins, who represented Heritage Apostolic Church - a group that has planned to build a sanctuary on Brooks Road. The church now meets in a building on Heritage Drive behind Thomas Arena.
Alderman-at-large Tim Liddy brought up the matter of the veto after the board had conducted all its public business for the evening before going into executive session.
He asked DeBerry the reason he vetoed the amendment passed by the board at the March 4 meeting.
The mayor said the board needed more time to study the issues.
“We have to be careful for the end result of what we do,” he said. “The purpose of zoning is to restrict, so I think the board needs to prove harm would be done to necessitate a change of its own request.”
He then reminded aldermen they had initially requested the amendments package put together by a consultant.
Zoning now operates on an amended 1995 Comprehensive Plan, he said. As it stands, churches are permitted in B4 zones by appeal to the board of aldermen, he said.
He added that appeals for variances, as he understands it, can be approved based on hardship.
“Whenever we give variances on usage, I think that danger is spot zoning,” DeBerry said.
He argued that zoning ordinances had to be consistent.
Liddy asked the mayor what the difference would be in permitting churches by appeal in a residential zone, but not in a B4 zone.
“How do you see that different?” he asked.
“There are some similarities,” DeBerry said. “If you relax requirements in a commercial, why relax in a residential once the planning commission makes a decision?”
Liddy then asked what the time frame would be in readdressing the amendments if the board would override the veto.
“It takes us back to the question of what is included in a B4,” DeBerry said. “Zoning is not easy. By its very nature it is painful. We have to be consistent with what we are doing.”
“I motion to override this veto,” said Liddy.
“I second,” said alderman Garrie Colhoun.
At this juncture, Watkins requested to speak.
“No,” said the mayor. “I respectfully appreciate what you are saying. Last week opened up an audience that was less than respectful.”
Watkins said the landowner would not ask to speak.
“I just want to go through some points,” he said.
DeBerry asked who the landowner was.
“Heritage Apostolic Church,” Watkins answered.
He offered to be spokesperson for the entire congregation and to be brief.
DeBerry conceded offering Watkins five minutes.
Watkins said the congregation agrees that consistency in applying the zoning rules is the most important consideration - that every person should be on equal terms when talking about property development.
“That’s really all the church is seeking - to be on a level playing field,” he said.
The next point made was that the ordinance seems to single out churches in general for exclusion in a B4.
“The churches do situate with other commercial and industrial districts,” Watkins said, citing examples in Memphis, Tenn. “They don’t sit on a highway by any accident. They want easy access.”
He agreed that DeBerry had a right to say variances are to be granted for hardships.
But as the amendments would hold if adopted as they are, there would be no appeal based on anything, he said.
“This is no test run,” said Watkins. “It’s the final run.”
Watkins said the churches collectively are asking that the ordinance amendments do not “carve out churches alone.”
He said the same concerns could apply to lots of other organizations also that do not bring a prospect of “a huge tax base.”
“State law says alcohol cannot be served within 100 feet of a church,” he continued. “The Heritage Church lot is substantial and no threat to them.
“The biggest problem there is with this (amendment) is it’s targeting churches, but these reasons apply no more to churches than to any other business.”
Watkins asserted that Congress passed laws regarding equal treatment.
The attorney thanked the mayor and board for an opportunity to make points.
Liddy pointed out that others in the audience may like to speak to issues not related to churches.
Wayne Jones approached the board saying he is a resident of the city who is concerned about zoning effects in general.
“I don’t envy you in this position because it is hard,” he said. “Whatever you decide is going to affect all the citizens. It is an economic decision that affects now and the future.”
Alderman Nancy Hutchens asked to present a question.
“Having listened, I think our planning commission does a terrific job,” she said. “They are appointed by the board and work free gratis.
“After listening to some of these sessions on what can and can’t be allowed, I think we need to go back to the drawing board.”
Hutchens said she had been approached by individuals not concerned about the specific church in question who asked what if someone wants to start up a church near a strip mall or in a residential area.
“I think we should not drop this back on the planning commission,” she said. “I think we need to look at what the board could allow.”
She added that the board has no idea what the new Heritage Apostolic Church would look like.
“We’ve not seen it,” she said. “From my standpoint, I am not voting to say I’m opposed to Heritage Church. But there are some things as a body (governing body) I think we need to go back and look at the overall plan instead of just hearsay.”
The mayor asked for a roll call on Liddy’s motion to override the mayor’s veto which would require four votes.
The vote to override failed with alderman Russell Johnson and Hutchens voting to sustain the veto and Liddy, Colhoun and alderman Naylond Hayes voting to override.
“We are back to the original point of a moratorium,” said DeBerry. “No amendments were adopted. So the veto takes us back to a moratorium until there is clarity on B4 in the entire city.”
“We are back to square one,” said Hutchens. “The amendment change is voted down. So we are starting over.”
“Fair enough,” said Colhoun.
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