Planning commission’s land vote overturned



October 12, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Iola City Council members removed a huge hurdle for construction to begin soon on a new Allen County Hospital on North Kentucky Street, voting 7-2 to rezone 25 acres of land in what had been a vacant, residential area.

The rezoning order came Tuesday following an hour of emotional debate from backers favoring the land on North Kentucky, and others who said they preferred to see the hospital built north of Oregon Road and outside Iola’s city limits.

The land will be rezoned from residential to commercial use, an order that rejected a recommendation from the Iola Planning Commission that the zoning waiver be denied.

Allen County Counselor Alan Weber told council members that the North Kentucky site, currently owned by the Hopper family, best fit all of the county’s needs and would best serve the community.

“We long ago realized that there was not a perfect site,” Weber said. 

The biggest barrier to the site north of Oregon Road, currently owned by Sally Huskey, was three-fold, Weber said. 

It would cost substantially more to extend utilities that far north; Iola would have to annex the land even though it was not adjoining any other part of the city; and Iola still is not guaranteed that it would be the sole utility provider for the hospital after it was built. That’s primarily because Anderson Rural Water District owns the water rights. 

Anderson water district officials have been adamant that they provide water service, said Jay Kretzmeier, another hospital trustee.

Council members agreed to many of the county’s points.

The land would provide some disruption to neighbors, but that would be true regardless of where the hospital was built, unless it was built several miles outside of town, Councilman Jim Kilby said. 

Councilman Kendall Callahan added that the Hopper site meets all of the tenets of an agreement between the city and county when Iola agreed to earmark a portion of its sales tax collections to the hospital if it were built in or near Iola.

THE OPPONENTS of rezoning the land, including council members Joel Wicoff and Beverly Franklin, asked councilmen to take a longer-term look at Iola’s development.

Wicoff noted that over the past 20 years, several homes have been built in the north part of Iola. Several more could be built, including on the Hopper site, if the hospital were built on the Huskey land.

Franklin added that she was concerned about how a hospital would affect stormwater runoff into Coon Creek.