By a 5-0 vote, the Urbana Planning Commission on Monday voted down a request by Urbana resident Joseph Smith to rezone two parcels he owns at 413 and 415 S. Main St. from BR-1 Business Residential to B-2 General Business.
The plan Smith presented involved 413 S. Main St. being converted from a residential unit to a retail operation that would sell pet supplies, while 415 S. Main St. would continue to operate as Bow to Wow Dog Grooming.
Community Development Manager Doug Crabill said in reviewing Smith’s application, he and Zoning Officer Adam Moore concluded Planning Commission should not recommend to Urbana City Council that the parcels be rezoned.
“Our concern at the staff level about this rezoning request is we believe this is spot zoning or essentially putting business zoning in the middle of a residential district,” Crabill said. “If it was contiguous to an existing business district, I think we would be having a different conversation, at least from the staff level.”
Crabill added the BR-1 zoning district is “essentially a transitional area between commercial and residential uses. However, despite the name, the way the codified ordinances are written for BR-1, it’s, in part, mainly for residential uses and is considered a residential district.”
Smith argued otherwise, stating, “BR-1 is business first, residential second. If it weren’t, it would be RB-1.”
He added it’s his belief that city staff considers residential to be first in a BR-1 zoning district because residential is a permitted use in the area, while business (retail) uses require a conditional use permit as a “screening mechanism” to prevent things like a strip joint from setting up shop in a residential environment.
“I’m a legitimate business guy, and I try to turn a dollar honestly,” Smith said. “The only reason I want it to be B-2 is because (city code) won’t allow me to have retail there. All I want to do is sell dog products and dog food.”
Smith noted that while he isn’t permitted to have retail on the property, city code under BR-1 does allow him to seek a conditional use permit for an adult entertainment facility.
“To me, that is about as repulsive as you can get right there,” he said.
While historically the area has been home to mostly single- and multi-family dwellings, as well as small businesses providing personal services like hair salons, etc., Smith pointed out 415 S. Main St. has housed commercial businesses in the past like service stations and restaurants.
Crabill said these particular businesses were likely considered a legal, nonconforming use in the past, and Mayor Bill Bean, a Planning Commission member, added many retail businesses like grocery stores once operated in and around residential areas throughout the city at one time, but times change.
“The thing is, the zoning over the last 50 years has changed so much,” Bean said. “Most of this (area) is now either residential or service-oriented (businesses).”
Smith said the idea of rezoning the properties was “triggered” by his desire to place a monument sign at 415 S. Main St.
He said the best location for the sign would be in the alley that he stated is on his property. Since he can’t place the sign in the alley, the next best location would be next door at his 413 S. Main St. residential property. The property line for this residential property, he said, extends nearly to the middle of the parking lot of the dog grooming business.
For this reason, Smith wrote in a letter addressed to the Planning Commission, the residential property is an integral part of 415 S. Main St., and both should be changed from BR-1 to B-2.
Planning Commission members chime in
Prior to voting down Smith’s rezoning request, Planning Commission members expressed concern over what may become of the properties in the future if B-2 uses are allowed and Smith decides to sell the properties.
Smith said he has no intentions to sell the properties. Instead, he wants to pass them down to his family.
“I have it set up in an estate where it is not to be sold,” he said. “It goes from generation to generation. It came from my mother, and it’s going to stay in the family.”
Planning Commission member Bill Kremer said if he were a nearby homeowner, he would have an issue with Smith’s plans to sell pet food, which attracts “mice and rodents.”
“I believe in our position as a planning board, we should protect these zones,” Kremer said. “I think that’s our job.
“I have a little problem because that type of store (pet supplies) would inevitably attract different animals to (the) area, and it would possibly lower value of (one’s) property,” he said.
Planning Commission member Kerry Brugger, who is the city’s director of administration, reminded his fellow members that the Planning Commission’s decision not to recommend approval of the rezoning request will be sent to City Council for final approval or rejection.
“Council can override our decision,” he said.
In other business:
•The KFC restaurant at 144 S. Jefferson Ave. will be installing the city’s first full color LED sign after the Planning Commission approved the business’ application seeking to replace the existing manual changeable copy sign – located below the main KFC pole sign – with an electronic LED changeable copy sign.
The new LED sign must be programmed to allow for gradual transitions from sign to sign to reduce driver distractions.
•The Planning Commission signed off on an application from Grant Glessner to install two 49.5-square-foot wall signs (letter height not to exceed 26 inches in height) at 624 N. Main St., the future location of Lincoln & Main Restaurant.
Crabill said the building is the old Marathon station currently undergoing renovations. The signs, he added, will be placed on the east and north elevations of the current structure.
•An application seeking to install a 17.73-square-foot wall sign at 1472 E. U.S. Route 36, Suite J (Kyte Plaza), in Urbana was approved by council.
Crabill said the sign is for a new Cricket Wireless business set to move into the former AT&T store.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.