WORTHINGTON - A second reading of a proposal to change the zoning of a parcel of land across from Olson Park failed to receive approval during Monday night’s Worthington City Council meeting.
The council invited members of the community to express their opinions regarding rezoning the land. Neighborhood resident Kelly Meyer asked for a vote against the rezone.
Meyer has been present at several meetings about the potential rezone. He told the city council Monday that many of his neighbors share his concerns, but haven’t been vocal at meetings because they either don’t like public speaking or feel they have a conflict of interest.
Meyer said he’s worried about the traffic an apartment complex may bring to the neighborhood. He’s also concerned about the development having adequate parking, fearing that overflow would spill onto his street. He mentioned that rezoning the parcel would seem like a “spot zone,” which city code discourages.
Meyer also expressed concern that if the proposed market-rate development somehow doesn’t work out for the rezoned property, then subsidized, low-income housing could be placed on that lot instead. City Administrator Steve Robinson pointed out that under the deed grant the developer would need in order to complete the project, the complex would have to be market-rate housing for the next 10 years. Mayor Mike Kuhle added that the city council is trying to take measures to raise wages, and if they’re successful, the likelihood of housing staying market-rate is much higher.
Meyer asked if there was an alternative site for the developer. Kuhle said there are a couple of other possibilities, but that the developer wasn’t interested in those.
Council member Chad Cummings agreed with Meyer’s concern about the risk of subsidized housing going in that parcel of land. Cummings voted “yes” on rezoning the land during the Jan. 14 city council meeting, but said he’d since heard from constituents that they don’t want the proposed development on that plot of land.
Cummings added that he needed to change his vote to “no” in order to represent the people, adding that he’d done some research. He said he asked some contractors he knows about the proposal, and was told they felt skeptical about the location of the project based on the premise that someday the apartment complex could presumably become low-income housing.
Cummings said in a later interview that with the city’s planned development of Dugdale Avenue property just west of the parcel up for a rezone, future low-income housing would not “fit the mold” of the neighborhood. He said he didn’t object to the development itself - just the location the developer was requesting.
Council member Alan Oberloh said he’d also heard feedback from Worthington residents (not just constituents he specifically represents) who asked him to vote against the rezone. In fact, he added, some are threatening to sell their houses in the event the proposed development is permitted.
Oberloh also claimed that building an apartment complex next to residential streets will lower the values of neighbors’ homes. He clarified in a Tuesday interview that his specific objection is to the class of housing proposed by the developer, adding that he’s opposed to “less than higher-end housing” being built next to houses valued in the $400,000 range. Oberloh said that with rent estimated at $895 to $995 monthly, the planned development is not any higher class than what already exists in Worthington.
Kuhle noted during Monday’s meeting that if the city of Worthington wants to attract developers, it needs to provide places for them to build. Council member Amy Ernst, meanwhile, said she didn’t hear from any of her constituents, so she didn’t feel she had a reason to change her vote. She also stated that it doesn’t make sense to turn down the opportunity for a daycare facility for 149 kids that’s part of the developer’s proposal.
Council member Larry Janssen also said he hadn’t heard that any of his constituents opposed the rezone, and that he sees the development as a smart investment.
Kuhle pointed out that no matter where this development goes, there’s going to be resistance from someone. Noting Worthington’s need for market-rate housing, daycare and assisted living, he asked, “If not here, where?”
The Rev. Tim Truesdell, another neighborhood resident, also spoke Monday in opposition to the rezone, citing the potential road expansion and parking woes.
Janssen, Ernst and Mike Harmon voted in favor of the rezoning, with Cummings and Oberloh opposed. As state code requires a two-thirds majority on zone changes - meaning the council needed at least four affirmative votes - the motion failed.
The land in question will remain zoned for single-family housing. However, Cummings said later, all hope for the project is not lost, as he plans to propose alternative locations to the developer.
In a separate matter, council members also heard from Worthington Police Chief Troy Appel about an initiative to begin using body cameras. The police department is in the process of finalizing policy and asked for input from the council and the community.
Appel explained that the department’s goal is to equip each uniformed patrol officer with a body camera. Officers would be required to record their interactions with the public.
Police officers will visit with other police departments who already use a body camera program as the department’s written policy is finalized. Appel said he hopes to begin using the cameras by summer.