WILMINGTON — After more than an hour of debate, the judiciary committee of Wilmington council agreed to place repealing the gateway zoning ordinance on council’s agenda for its regular meeting on April 7.
At the same meeting, the committee discussed possibly creating a task force of council members, zoning officials and residents to take a comprehensive look at existing zoning laws and see if citizens’ concerns can be addressed.
On gateway zoning, many present said they don’t trust council or the zoning commission and complained about the ordinance, which still exists on city books but wasn’t applied after a map enacting the zone was repealed by a 3-1 margin in November.
“What you did was destroy our trust in government,” said Bob Schaffing.
“You need to repeal this ordinance,” Vince Holmes said. “We’ve told you that since the vote. And then, you need to pass a new ordinance that you’ll never ever do something like this again to the citizens of Wilmington.”
Vince Holmes said council should pass an ordinance requiring that citizens be notified of zoning changes by mail.
The committee, comprised of council members Kelsey Swindler, Matt Purkey and committee chair Randi Milburn voted to place repealing the ordinance on council’s agenda for the April 7 meeting. Then, all seven members of council can debate whether to repeal it.
As for zoning generally, the committee voiced interest in forming a “task force” to review zoning and see how it might be changed.
Clinton County Regional Planning Executive Director Taylor Stuckert said the gateway ordinance intended to address many of the concerns voiced by those opposed to it. But, he said he doesn’t want citizens to feel like the city is repeating itself in an effort to address those concerns.
“Detrimental use to me is any, any business beside me,” said Wilmington property owner Angela Earley. “I’ve had nightmares that I’m going to have a bakery where they bake all night beside me, a laundromat beside me.”
Earley said she and her husband bought their home knowing about businesses near them and in good faith that no more would open next to them.
“I don’t think I am currently protected by existing zoning,” said Swindler, who lives in the defeated zone. “I don’t think we have a solution to the problems we have now.”
Swindler said empty lots and parking lots are a concern to her as a property owner downtown.
“They (zoning officials) are the ones creating the mess, because they’re the ones approving the changes that have taken place over the years with no regard for the look of the neighborhood,” said Stephen Sawzin, a Wilmington resident.
Committee member Matt Purkey said he doesn’t want residents to have to live with businesses opening next to their homes, but, he said, it sounds as though those protections don’t exist currently.
Earley said she would be interested in seeing a sub-committee formed consisting of members from council, citizens and zoning commission members.
Earley also complained about the lack of enforcement of the city’s current zoning rules, as did Shelby McAllister, who said he’s repeatedly complained about a barn full of tires near his property.
Wilmington Safety and Service Director Brian Shidaker said council hasn’t appropriated any funds for code enforcement, and Stuckert said there hasn’t been an enforcement officer for years.
Shidaker said police enforce code when they have time.
Earley said complaints about code enforcement were evidence that the city hasn’t been able to enforce current zoning regulations.
“Let’s work on the old stuff,” Earley said. “Let’s work on current problems.”
Diana Allen urged the committee to reach out to citizens in Wilmington and explain zoning regulations in “lay terms.”
“It is important to everybody in the city,” Allen said. “I would wager to bet most people don’t know anything about zoning. … It is very confusing.”
Stuckert and Shidaker said zoning needs to be simplified. Shidaker compared the city’s zones to a tie-dye T-shirt.
Allen also said everyone needs to work together, “as a city. … I feel like that got lost somewhere.”
Jared Holmes said it was lost when citizens felt like the city wasn’t “on their team” anymore, and Vince Holmes said, “That train you’re talking about, that left the station months ago.”
Vince Holmes also asked for assurance that the task force won’t “morph into gateway-lite.”
“We haven’t formed it yet, which is what we will do,” Milburn said. “I don’t think that any of us want to deal with the gateway again.”
Milburn also said it would be a great idea to have a task force with members of different backgrounds.
Allen and Vince Holmes both offered to be part of that task force.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.