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Planners flip views on change to allow MW store

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By Thomas Barr

  MOUNT WASHINGTON - What a difference a few months can make for a group of residents fighting the rezoning of property next to their neighborhoods.

In August, the Bullitt County Joint Planning Commission sent a favorable recommendation to rezone 1.41-acre tract between Cherry Hill Subdivision and Pleasant Grove Elementary to a B-1 Highway Business classification.

That request would later be withdrawn before the Mount Washington City Council had an opportunity to cast the final vote.

On Thursday, Gary and Brenda Owen came before the planning commission once again to rezone the property from Agricultural to B-1. This time, however, the outcome was totally different.

After hearing an hour of testimony, the planning commission voted 7-3 to send an unfavorable recommendation to the Mount Washington City Council. To override the recommendation, four members of the council would have to vote in favor and include findings of fact.

About two dozen nearby residents applauded as the commission made its decision late Thursday evening.

Attorney Eric Farris, representing the property owners, said that his clients would agree to a long list of restrictions.

In looking at the area, Farris said there had been several zoning changes along Highway 44 East over the years. The development, which would be a Dollar General store, had gotten preliminary approval from state transportation cabinet.

Gary Owen presented a petition with 146 people in the area who supported the zoning change and the Dollar General. He brought a laugh from the opponents when he admitted he didn’t go into Cherry Hill Estates seeking signatures since he figured that would be a waste of time.

This time, opponents to the rezoning brought forth an organized presentation, led by attorney Steve Porter.

Phillip Leigh, who is the developer in Cherry Hill, said the request didn’t meet the comprehensive plan, which called for residential. He said traffic is bad already on Highway 44 and the development would be placed between two schools.

He was concerned about exterior lighting and how it might affect the residential community on the east and south sides. He was also concerned about a high pressure natural gas line.

“It’s a very unsafe situation,” said Leigh. “It’s the wrong spot.”

David Green lives across the street on the corner of Truman Drive and Highway 44. The entrance to the Dollar General would be across from Truman Drive.

“It’s a bad intersection,” Green said of the current situation, which is not helped by the fact there is a blind curve, trees and fast-moving traffic on Highway 44.

Besides accidents, he was concerned about children would cross Highway 44 to go to the store.

Joe Reister served as principal at Pleasant Grove Elementary for 14 years and he knows the traffic situation and the dangers which would increase if the rezoning were allowed.

Over a three-year period, he said data revealed 175 accidents on Highway 44 from Country Corner Greenhouse to Greenbriar Road.

For several periods of the day, Reister said the normal traffic combines with school traffic to make things very congested on the roads. And both Eastside Middle and Pleasant Grove Elementary have activities throughout the week and weekends, which also adds traffic to the area.

He also knows children will cross Highway 44 from his experience as a principal.

“It’s a safety issue,” said Reister. “Why make it worse?”

Porter, an attorney representing residents in Cherry Hill Estates, said the people could bring the emotional testimony to a zoning case and it was his job to present the technical reasons.

In looking at the comprehensive plan and the guidelines within the document, Porter said that the application falls short.

One portion mentioned the goal of not duplicating current services. Porter said there are already several similar stores in Mount Washington and two convenience stores are located at the corner of Lloyd Lane and Highway 44.

Another goal in the plan is the guard against development which would provide a negative impact. Porter said with residential uses all around the property, a commercial development would naturally have a negative impact.

He called this a classic case of strip development where there is no existing B-1 zoning touching this property.  Plus, there is no way shown where pedestrian traffic would be handled.

If the plan had been to place the Dollar General at the corner of Highway 44 and Bogard/Lloyd Lane, Porter said that would have been a much better spot. It would have created a mini-town center, which is encouraged in the comprehensive plan.

Instead, Porter said it was the wrong spot to put the business, especially when there is a shopping center across the street with vacant storefronts.

Farris countered by presenting Stewart Sparks, who said that a Dollar General would not increase traffic as it is more of a convenience type retail operation.

John Campbell said that Dollar General has shown tremendous growth over the past five years as the company has opened small stores throughout rural communities.

Farris said with the property sitting next to a sewer lift station, it wasn’t too desirable for residential development. He felt that there had been changes in the area, including two commercial rezonings in the past couple of years, to justify the request.

Some of the conditions the owner agreed upon included installing sidewalks on the property, having no road connection to Cherry Hill Estates, limiting the one outdoor sign to no more than 20 foot tall, having a six-foot privacy fence with evergreens on the outside on the east and south sides of the property.

Any outside lighting would be directional to keep its impact from neighbors.

The original motion to send a favorable recommendation failed 7-3. A new motion to send an unfavorable recommendation to Mount Washington City Council was approved 7-3.

The Mount Washington City Council will make the final decision on the case.