The neighborhood showdown isn’t over, but round one is complete.
Park Street residents expressed their concern about Bruce Funeral Home’s plans to build a 54-space parking lot on the northwest corner of Park and Center Streets.
The plans would eliminate two homes and install an asphalt parking lot and a three-car garage and carport.
Shirley Bruce Brown Van Arsdale told members of the Gardner Planning Commission that Bruce Funeral Home is the oldest, continuously owned business in Johnson County. She explained that the need for additional parking has been exacerbated by road expansions of Center and Main Street over the years and a new project that will widen the intersection of Main and Center Street.
The homes that will be replaced with a parking lot will not be demolished – instead they are being moved.
“I hope to make it a lovely and peaceful setting,” she told commissioners. She said plans also call for retaining some of the historical significance of the funeral home.
For example, a rose bush planted outside the original funeral home will be moved from the Bruce family home to the downtown funeral home.
However, several neighbors objected to plans that require rezoning the lots to planned commercial and building an asphalt lot within yards of what one resident called “the most beautiful block of in Gardner.”
Cindy Weeks, Gardner, said the neighborhood is one of the original blocks of Gardner.
“The parking lot and garage would be out of character for the rest of the neighborhood,” Weeks said.
She asked that planning commissioners postpone the funeral home’s rezoning request so that neighbors, funeral home owners and city officials could go over the contentious issues. She was joined by several of her neighbors, including former Gardner City Council member Bob Page, in opposing the funeral home’s plans and the rezoning.
Dianne Stevens grew up in the 200 block of west Park and now owns a home in the 100 block of west Park.
“Consider your own front porch, and imagine stepping out onto it and viewing an expanse of asphalt,” she said.
She proposed that instead of re-zoning and building a parking lot, the funeral home owners could create a grass-grid lot to be used for temporary parking. She noted that temporary parking and a garage do not require rezoning, and she worried what would become of the funeral home location if and when another business took over.
Planning commissioner Andy Copeland said zoning ordinances are in place to protect surrounding property owners.
“Once it’s a planned commercial district, it will always, for all intents and purposes, be commercial,” he said.
Current zoning on the properties, R-5, would allow a developer to build multi-family apartments on the lot in the future, and Karin Livella, planning commissioner, said the parking lot would be more desirable.
“I would much rather see this garage and this carport,” she said.
Several residents also spoke on behalf of the funeral home, including former Gardner Mayor Carol Lehman.
Lehman said the funeral home currently is “pristine.”
“There is no reason to believe that the parking lot and landscaping will be any different,” she said.
Six of seven planning commissioners agreed to forward the rezoning request and preliminary development plan to the city council for approval. Copeland voted against approving the request.
The Park Street residents opposed to the project now have a 14-day window in which to file a protest petition that would put the issue in front of the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Currently, the issue will appear on a city council agenda in mid-June.