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Church sues city over zoning

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Members of a local church have joined together to challenge the rezoning of property next to their house of worship.

Bardstown Junction Baptist Church and 10 of its members filed suit Friday in Bullitt Circuit Court challenging the rezoning of nearly 140 acres off Highway 61 at Highway 245.

The Shepherdsville City Council approved the rezoning from R-1 Residential, B-1 Highway Business and Agricultural to IG General Industrial on Feb. 23, 2012.

Taking little testimony, the council relied upon the testimony presented to the Bullitt County Joint Planning Commission. However, that body was not named in the litigation.

The plaintiffs are asking that Bullitt Circuit Judge Rodney Burress finds the decision null and void and return the three properties - owned by Zoneton Developers, Debra Ann Shaw and the estate of Oma Lee Shaw - be returned to the original zoning classification.

The parties are also asking for costs and attorney fees.

In his complaint, attorney Bruce Simpson started with problems in the original rezoning, which began last June. The planning commission held a public hearing on a request to rezone the property to IL Light Industrial.

The commission gave a favorable recommendation to Bullitt Fiscal Court; however, church officials said they were not notified of any public hearing, as is required by law.

A zoning notification letter was returned as undeliverable to the planning staff.

Bullitt Fiscal Court held a full hearing on the matter. A final vote was expected at the Sept. 6, 2011, meeting; however, the court agreed to allow the applicants to withdraw their request and “beat a hasty retreat” to the Shepherdsville City Council.

If the map amendment had been denied by fiscal court, the applicants would have to wait one year before filing the same request.

The city would later annex the property despite concerns voiced by the plaintiffs.

A new application started the process over once again in January 2012.

The planning commission voted to send a favorable recommendation to Shepherdsville on the IG request. 

Simpson argued at the time that the application request went against the county’s comprehensive land-use plan, would have a significant adverse impact on the church and the community.

Having been denied the right to cross-examine witnesses produced by attorney John Wooldridge for the applicant, Simpson objected.

The day after the meeting, planning attorney and assistant county attorney Tammy Baker informed Simpson that a new hearing should be held because the lawyer did have a right to question witnesses.

However, at a special meeting on Jan. 31, both Simpson and Wooldridge agreed that the commission had made its decision and could not have another hearing on the same matter.

It went to Shepherdsville City Council and was approved.

In the lawsuit, Simpson stated that the planning commission’s findings were wrong as it did not follow the land-use plan, which was reapproved in 2010 by the agency.

He said that the city didn’t take into account that the church would lose 20 parking spaces and its sign due to Highway 61 improvements which would be needed.

Experts estimated that 14,000 added vehicle trips would occur if the planned warehouse/distribution facilities were constructed.

Also, Simpson stated that the planning commission failed to take into account that over 600 acres of vacant property in Bullitt County had already been rezoned industrial which would accommodate any future growth.

Finally, Simpson said that the proposed industrial complex, along with parking requirements for more than 3,000 cars and over 70 tractor-trailer trucks, would require more than three million square feet of impervious surface, which would greatly affect the runoff of water and would cause drainage issues for the 5-7.5 million gallons of runoff water.

Simpson called the traffic and drainage studies presented by the applicants as both seriously flawed.

“There were numerous other errors, omissions and commissions by the Shepherdsville City Council when it took final action...the city council failed to adopted findings of fact in support of its decision, which is fatal to its decision and requires reversal,” wrote Simpson.

He stated his clients’ Constitutional rights of due process were violated.

The applicants stated during the various hearings that the area had changed socially and economically since the adoption of the comprehensive plan, which Wooldridge said was only a roadmap to make decisions.

In its discussion, city officials mentioned that Shepherdsville ran a major sewer line to that part of the county, which was not part of the corporate boundaries at the time. The purpose of the sewer line was to gain customers and to assist in the creation of jobs.

No development or no announcements on future tenants have been announced. Red Rock Development has been the major developer who has been involved with the property from the beginning.

The council, after meeting Monday night in executive session, gave instructions to city attorney Joseph Wantland to pursue in defending the decision.

No court date has been set for future hearings.

A lawsuit gives only one side of the dispute.