City council gives rezoning thumbs up



July 23, 2013 - 12:00 AM

At the conclusion of two hours of comment Monday evening, Iola council members voted to rezone 3.8 acres at 1002 N. Kentucky to permit construction of a senior assisted living complex.
Councilman Jon Wells noted the area had been “vacant for years,” and questioned whether that was better for Iola.
“I’m not seeing problems that can’t be addressed,” Wells said, in changing the zoning from R1 (single family) to R3 (multiple family).
Problems brought up, often repeatedly, by opponents were that the complex would adversely affect property values of neighboring homes; lighting and traffic into the complex would be a disruption; rain water runoff would flood neighboring properties, and traffic on Kentucky, already heavy for a residential street, would increase.
Mainly, those objecting — 74 people signed a petition to oppose the rezoning — said they thought the complex would change forever their quiet and pristine neighborhood.
Councilman Gene Myrick questioned whether rezoning would be a negative.
“We can’t keep turning people away,” he said. “Eventually the word is going to get out, ‘Don’t come to Iola.’ I feel this is a way to grow Iola.”
Councilman Don Becker didn’t agree, and his was the lone vote against rezoning.
“I don’t think we’ve done anything to run business out of town,” Becker said. “I think planning commission members studied the issue,” and were correct in recommending the rezoning be denied. “I’d like to see the project but I don’t think this is the right place. The majority (directly) affected are against it.”
Councilman Steve French said he thought the proposed project fit within the city’s comprehensive plan and saw “no evidence to support that it would depress property values.”
If the council denied the rezoning, “I think it would be sending the message, loud and clear, that you don’t want to grow old in Iola.”
French then made the motion to rezone the property, which was seconded by Wells. Sandy Zornes, Myrick and Bob Shaughnessy joined in support of rezoning. Beverly Franklin abstained from voting.

SCOTT HOLDER, vice president of construction for Neighborhood Senior Living, reviewed what would occur with rezoning.
He said a 19,000-square-foot building to house 26 suites would be built at the front of the property with an eight-suite memory unit, for people with dementia-type problems, behind. Both will be single story, with brick and masonry siding.
“This has been a very successful concept for us,” in Kansas and several other states, said Holder, of the company based in Dallas. “It will benefit Iola and Allen County.”
He said construction would cost $5 million and the projection was $1 million would go into the local economy each year for wages, groceries, utilities and other necessities.
Rent for the main complex will range from $2,800 to $3,000, which will be residents’ only financial obligation other than telephone service.
He said 20 to 22 full-time equivalency jobs would be required, which might have as many as 32-33 employees, but “we pay benefits to every employee, including health care.”
The project will be privately financed.
The company will continue to pay property taxes on the land, about $500 a year, and will seek for the project to be included in Iola’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program, which would have taxes reimbursed at 95 percent for six years and then phased in at 20 percent a year over the next four, ending with 100 percent tax payments in the 11th year.
Some people questioned whether the company could fill the suites.
Holder said the company has a “very good marketing staff,” and was confident the residential suites would be filled from Iola’s trade area, which includes nearby counties.
He didn’t see traffic as a problem, with employees arriving and leaving at different times of the day according to their shifts. Also, he said engineers would deal with water problems; lighting would be aimed downward and meet city codes.

MUCH OF WHAT opponents said was similar to what planning commissioners heard Wednesday night, when they voted 4-2 to recommend the area not be rezoned.
Shirley Catron was the first to speak, and asked those opposed to stand. About two-thirds of 45 in the audience did so.
Sally Huskey said the area always had been dedicated to single family dwellings and “I think that’s what people want.”
She questioned whether the buffer zone, between the complex and neighbors, was sufficient, as well as the proposed ingress and egress to the site. Huskey said the lighting would be a nuisance and that the dementia portion of the project could be as well.
Fadel Shaaban brought up concerns about water runoff, noting his yard — he lives to the west of the acreage — flooded as is.
David Toland’s was the only voice in support.
“I believe in this personally,” Toland said, agreeing that change is hard on people.
He pointed out that Iola’s and Allen County’s populations had continued to decline and projects such as the senior living complex would help change the trend.
Seven other sites were viewed before the company settled on 1002 N. Kentucky, he said, noting the others were rejected because they weren’t for sale or had environmental, utility or other problems.
“It’s personally painful for me to take a position against my friends,” Toland said, “but we have to weigh the interests of the city as a whole.”
Ken Hunt, who lives at the northwest corner of the property, made an impassioned plea for denial of rezoning.
He proposed the application for rezoning was inappropriately filed — an issue apparently settled in executive session with City Attorney Robert Johnson — and that jobs mostly would be part-time and low-paying.
“We’re at a critical juncture,” Hunt said. “Do you follow the planning commission’s recommendation and the neighbors, or take the side of an out-of-town developer?”
Jerry Whitworth, who lives directly south of where the main complex will be built, said he had no doubts the company was a good one, “all first class,” and that the project likely would be good for Iola, “but not in this spot.”
He also mentioned the 10-year tax abatement (through the Neighborhood Revitalization Program) as a negative, when he had paid taxes on his home and business for 45 years.
“They want to benefit the city, but they don’t want to pay taxes,” he said. “That’s a red flag for me.”
Dottie White asked what would occur if suites in the complex languished empty, which brought Holder’s response that the company’s marketing division was very good at what it did.

IN OTHER zoning matters, council members went along with planning commission decisions to issue a special use permit to USD 257 but not to vacate half a block of the alley between Cottonwood and Colborn streets south of Madison Avenue.
USD 257 will refit administration offices at 408 N. Cottonwood for Crossroad alternative school students.
French asked about its size, which Scott Stanley, district director of operations, said was adequate because instruction would be online. He said enrollment this fall would be 16, and that the building was more than adequate for that number.
Carolyn and Val McLean, who own a rental home north of the alley, and Jim Smith, whose Cottonwood Gardens park is to the south, sought the alley’s vacation.
Several neighbors were opposed, including Cindy Troxel, who has operated a daycare at 221 S. Cottonwood for 25 years. She feared the alley’s closure would increase traffic near her daycare and endanger children.