It’s surprising that two groups of informed citizens can draw vastly different responses to the same information, but that’s what occurred when Gardner’s Planning Commission and the Gardner City Council considered whether to rezone 2.67 acres of land on the south side of town.
Planning commissioners heard the information first. During a July 29 meeting, commissioners recommended that the council deny a request to rezone the acreage from commercial to light industrial. Commissioners said the rezoning would be spot-zoning – an unwise planning practice – and other commissioners worried that a freight terminal would not be the highest best use of that develop able parcel. They also noted they had heard a similar request not that long ago and recommended denial for the same reason. They also discussed how freight or shipping containers differed from cargo containers. City code defines cargo containers and prohibits the storage of them on property smaller than 20 acres. It does not define shipping containers.
Fast forward a few weeks later and council members were treated to a similar presentation on the project. The marked difference in the presentation during the Aug. 17 council meeting was that the applicant testified suggesting that cargo containers would not be on the property for longer than overnight, and the containers would be on the back of semi-truck chassis.
Representatives of two neighboring properties spoke again opposing the rezoning, and then things fell apart. It appeared two council members went out of their way to offend members of the appointed Planning Commission. Council member Lee Moore suggested that commissioners didn’t use logic or reasoning when deliberating the decision. Instead, Moore intoned, they used emotion to draw a conclusion.
Council member Rich Melton claimed to have watched the Planning Commission videos but couldn’t recall the commissioners giving reasons for the denial. It left The Gardner News staff wondering if the video Melton watched was of the same meeting Gardner News staff attended.
Then Melton and Moore began insulting attorneys for the neighboring property owners. It should be mentioned that one of those property owners has made significant investment in Gardner. Marvin Vail Towing Service is located next door to the property in question. The attorney that council members suggested was basing his presentation on emotion – despite the attorney citing specific city codes and definitions – was representing a Gardner business person. If we’re going to be open for business at a minimum those council men who complain the city is not responsive enough to business owners, should be polite and respectful.
And let’s talk about the other property owner’s representative who spoke against the proposal: Attorney Mark Hanna spoke on behalf of the Anne Radke Trust. The trust owns probably the most developable piece of property in Gardner – the 65 acres that used to be home to the KC Pumpkin Patch.
It would behoove government officials to be nice to the representative of the primest real estate in Gardner. Instead, council members Melton and Moore belittled Hanna in public, and then Moore bragged about the clash on Facebook.
“Property owners in opposition to this were nice enough to hire some lawyers for us to argue with,” Moore wrote in a Facebook status.
Those property owners hired attorneys, because they have significant investments in this community. They hired attorneys because they want to do everything possible to protect those investments. By hiring attorneys, the property owners are behaving like wise business people. Council members should welcome smart investors, whether they agree with the attorneys’ conclusions.
“…More to come on this one. Heads up: this one got a little heated in case you want to catch the YouTube version (pop some popcorn for that one),” Moore’s post continued.
The Facebook status suggests that Moore has already made up his mind on the rezoning request, though it’s been remanded back to the planning commission for further consideration.
We would caution that in rezoning matters, the council members act in a quasi-judicial role, or as impartial jurors. To appear in a public forum as if minds have been made up creates a legal liablity. That’s not smart. It’s not logical.
The Gardner News is largely indifferent on the matter of the zoning request itself. If the property is rezoned as light industrial, it’s probably safe to assume that the remaining developable property nearby will become light industrial in the future. If it remains commercially-zoned, there may be opportunities for a hotel or retail. That’s the decision before the council and the planning commission. It should be carefully and politely considered.
Let’s not send neighboring property owners to Edgerton.