PRESTONSBURG — The Planning and Zoning Commission rejected a request Thursday to rezone a residential tract to commercial use, in order to allow additional parking for a new restaurant.
The board held its hearing on the matter in a city council meeting room packed with interested parties on both sides of the dispute. Betsy Burchett, who owns the property along Clark Lane, requested the zoning change so she could sell the property to Jarred McGuire, who has been remodeling the nearby former Jack Hyden residence into a pizza restaurant. The 50 foot-by-60 foot lot, which sits in the middle of the block and contains only a dilapidated house, would have been the only commercial tract on a residential lot.
“The house is unfit,” Burchett said. “I can tell they [the restaurant owners] need parking, and I think that might be a better asset for the neighborhood.”
Also attending the meeting were several residents of the area surrounding the property in question, all of whom voiced strong disagreement with granting the change.
“I think a neighborhood by definition is more a residential environment, and I’m concerned about having a spot-zoned community,” said Ron Ball, whose home adjoins the Burchett property. Ball added that he was mostly concerned that a zoning change could hurt property values of the surrounding residences.
Phil Shaw, whose home sits between the Burchett property and South Lake Drive, said he questioned the necessity of the restaurant’s plans.
“The businesses operation is not critical to that tract,” Shaw said. “It’s not going to make or break them.”
Several of the residents also voiced concerns about the property being used to house the restaurant’s garbage, as well as exposure to asbestos when the house on the property is demolished.
McGuire attempted to defuse residents’ concerns, explaining that he already has an area set aside for garbage dumpsters on the restaurant property and that he was committed to having the Burchett property tested for asbestos and ready to take all precautions to limit exposure. He said the lot would be used solely for parking and would be surrounded by a fence.
And while McGuire admitted that the 10 parking spaces the lot could provide would not be crucial to the success of his business, he said they could prevent additional headaches for residents in the future by keeping patrons from parking along the street in front of residents’ homes.
“I’m trying to provide more parking, so cars won’t be pushed into the neighborhood …” McGuire said. “I’m trying to do as well as I can to make everyone happy.
Ball, however, remained unconvinced, saying granting the change could lead to a “slippery slope” in the future, should the business change hands.
Planning and Zoning Board member Dixon Nunnery then submitted a petition signed by 14 neighborhood residents, including all four adjoining property owners, objecting to the zone change. He said granting the request would set a bad precedent for the city which could ultimately render zoning regulations meaningless.
“This is tantamount, strictly speaking, to spot-zoning,” Nunnery said. “Spot-zoning is illegal.”
But McGuire countered by pointing out that Nunnery had a conflict in the matter, noting that Nunnery is one of the adjoining property owners and had attempted to purchase the property for himself.
“I just want it on the record that the person who started the petition is the person who lost out to me, potentially, in obtaining this property,” McGuire said.
Nunnery admitted that he had also wanted to purchase the property, but said his primary concern was the effect such a change would have on property values.
“He’s got his business,” Nunnery said. “We’ve got the residential. It’s separated by a street, and that’s the way it should stay.”
Burchett then pointed out that zoning regulations prevent her from rebuilding on the lot, and said without the change, the property would essentially be useless. But Nunnery countered that Burchett could potentially rebuild by seeking a variance.
The board then retreated to another room, to make way for a previously scheduled special city council meeting. After some discussion, members Mike Vance and Randall Burchett voted to deny the zone change, while Nunnery recused himself from voting in the matter, because of his conflict. Chairman Frank Fitzpatrick would have only cast a vote in the event of a tie.
While board decisions to grant zone changes are automatically reviewed by the city council, decisions to deny changes are final. Burchett, however, can appeal the board’s decision to the city council.