This is not a local story for most of us- but, it exemplifies most of our towns, cities, and counties. A building goes vacant in the downtown area. A company buys that property- knowing exactly what zoning obtains, when it purchases this building. No promises were made to change the zoning before the deal goes through.
The zoning board works out a compromise with the new company and the residents- three days a week, it can operate until midnight and beyond (special use permit). On at least three (maybe more) occasions, the company said that over the past thirty years, they have not employed a third shift, so this one change would be sufficient to proceed with development. The neighbors were not thrilled with all the late night comings and goings, but they could accept three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) of late night activities. Everyone wanted the project to proceed.
All of a sudden, the company said this was a deal breaker. If they could not get their way, they would abandon the project and move to a nearby county. So, with no public input (no hearing was held), the local township capitulated- it reversed the zoning board decision. And, right now, the $ 2 million refurbishing of the building is proceeding. (Note: this is not “dirty industry”- it’s a dialysis center. And, although it’s in the “downtown” area, it’s also just off the main drag). But, the whole scenario leaves some pretty big questions.
First, let’s examine the company side of the equation. Why did the (very big) company buy this site? It clearly knew the zoning regulations (if not, it is not the company I have known it to be for some 40 years). And, since it represented that it did not need the third shift- what made it a deal breaker all of a sudden? (My hypothesis is that it understood the hysteria of the town and knew it could get its way now- so, if it ever needs such a change in operations in the future (not very likely, I might add), it would have the approval in its pockets.
Secondly, why is it (and here’s the takeaway for all of us) that local (and other) governments feel they can reverse zoning agency decisions without additional hearings? What is the point of the hearings in the first place then? We all understand that the zoning agency is not infallible, and corrections may be needed. However, neither is the local government. Citizen input is critical to this process. And, if the zoning authority has already had an approved development plan- approved by the city- what is the benefit of the planning?
I was intimately involved in another community planning activity. The plan defined which areas of the county needed to be developed, which needed to remain rural, and developed actions that would maintain this series of decisions. The county approved the plan. We had proposed a moderately large new sewage treatment facility AND a small local facility for use by the urban village. Within one year of the planning, the county elected to take Federal money to build a very large sewage treatment plant. (The costs were slightly higher for this concept.) The logic was that should the county population in the urban ring double in twenty years or less, there would not be sufficient treatment capacity. The population did double-but, in 30 years; the plant is now longer the issue.
What really did happen was that sewer lines had to be constructed to the urban village, some 15 miles away, through rural areas. Once there were sewer lines available, the county could not prohibit potential users from tapping into the line. Since the sewer lines connecting the designated growth village traversed some 15 miles of rural area. Growth (the urban ring now includes a lot of this area) occurred where it was not desired. So much for planning.
I fear the same result will occur for the town in question. Another company can purchase property- knowing the zoning won’t satisfy its needs- with the same ensuing situation. What about your community?