MOUNT WASHINGTON - A decision on whether to rezone property next to Pleasant Grove Elementary School will come a little later than expected.
The Mount Washington City Council elected to delay the second reading and vote on 1.4 acres between Cherry Hill subdivision and the school until October.
Chris Feldkamp, who was among the dozens of Cherry Hill residents who attended Monday night’s council meeting to speak out against the rezoning, said he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the council’s decision but he was nevertheless pleased.
Council members were expected to vote on the ordinance rezoning 1.4 acres between Pleasant Grove Elementary and Cherry Hill subdivision from R-3 Residential to B-1 Highway Business during their Sept. 10 regular meeting, however city officials agreed that more time was needed to hear from both sides.
Feldkamp, who is president of the Cherry Hill neighborhood association, said tabling the ordinance gives residents more time to organize, collect signatures from those opposed to rezoning and gather more data on traffic patterns, things Feldkamp said they didn’t have time to do before the Bullitt County Planning and Zoning Commission made its recommendation to rezone.
“We kind of felt railroaded,” Feldkamp said. “We didn’t find out about the meeting until the last minute.”
Feldkamp said he didn’t think many of the commissioners even knew where the property was when they voted, adding that had the neighborhood association had more time to prepare they could’ve given much more information to support their case.
In a nutshell, Feldkamp said Cherry Hill residents are most concerned that building a Dollar General in the area would worsen traffic, not because of any increase in traffic volume, but because of the additional turns in an area where there are already so many.
“It’s just going to bottleneck that whole area,” he said.
Then there are safety concerns.
Feldkamp pointed out that there are two schools, two major subdivisions and youth football fields surrounding the property and Cherry Hill residents are concerned about children crossing Highway 44 to get to the Dollar Store if it’s built.
Feldkamp also expressed personal concerns that no official action was taken by the Bullitt County Board of Education on the issue, despite the fact that the property adjoins school property and the attorney representing the property owners, Eric Farris, also represents the school district.
He claimed that the neither the area residents nor the schools were asked what they thought of rezoning the property to build a Dollar General.
In an email addressing Feldkamp’s concern, Bullitt County Public Schools Superintendent Keith Davis stated, “There was not a meeting about the matter in any way, thus there was no vote.”
Davis went on to state, “Mr. Farris did make contact with me and let me know that he was representing the landowner and asked if I had any particular objections. Given that there are several other businesses and given that a Dollar Store would not be a high volume business location, it seems that it would not have a large impact on traffic ingress or egress into either of the schools in the area...The decision on whether or not to allow the change rests with at least two governing bodies as I understand it—the P&Z commission and the Mt. Washington CIty Council. To my knowledge, the Board of Education has not intervened with the business of these bodies in the past.”
He also wrote, “Since there is not legal issue regarding the Board in this rezoning case, Mr. Farris would not be involved from the Board of Education’s perspective.”
Farris, who addressed council members on behalf of Gary and Brenda Owen, who sought the rezoning to sell the property to Susan Cox, a developer of Dollar General Stores, argued that planning and zoning’s recommendation was warranted given the fact that there are several prior B-1 zonings in the area.
The attorney added that the the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has reviewed the site plans and placed certain requirements pertaining to state right of way, while planning and zoning also placed restrictions on rezoning.
“I think it’s important to note that the state, which is well aware of the traffic problems in the area, have signed off on the site plans,” Farris said.
He also argued that Dollar General stores typically don’t create a lot of traffic and that any additional traffic would be regulated by the two school zones.
Councilman Barry Armstrong asked if there were plans for a center turning lane in the area. Farris said, “We’re prepared to address the idea of a turning lane.”
Farris also said that in the one-tenth of a mile area on either side of the property along Highway 44 there had been only 19 accidents recorded in the last five years.
Armstrong said whatever impact the potential development might have on traffic there will certainly be more vehicles coming and going.
“Whether it’s 40 cars an hour or 40 cars a minute there are going to be more vehicles,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of his neighbors, Cherry Hill resident and former Pleasant Grove Elementary principal Joe Reister offered counterpoints to Farris’ arguments.
Citing information from the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, Reister said that between Jan. 1, 2009 and Aug. 15, 2012 there were 175 collisions between mile markers 17 and 20 along Highway 44 East.
“That’s four collisions a month,” he said. “One-tenth of a mile in each direction doesn’t give you a clear picture.”
“With the playgrounds, practice fields, and multi subdivisions we are extremely concerned about a child getting hurt or even worse. Traffic is nightmare but with so many children concentrated in this area it would be a recipe for disaster,” Feldkamp said.
He said he and his fellow residents are not against Dollar General, they’re against rezoning.
“If this property is rezoned it’s going to be commercial forever, we don’t want that,” he said.
Philip Leigh, who developed Cherry Hill, said neither he nor any of the residents expected commercial development in the area when the neighborhood was designed.
Reister said the neighborhood association’s main point is that putting a store on the property would create yet another intersection that would cause traffic and safety issues.
“It’s the intersection. That’s the problem,” he said.
Farris said if turning is the issue his clients are prepared to address it, adding that under the property’s current zoning apartments could be built on the property, which would create more traffic.
The council will hold a public hearing on its rezoning ordinance Monday, Oct. 8 at which time second reading and a vote may occur depending on the pleasure of the council.