Zoning Out

Rezoning property is a delicate affair; a high-wire act balancing economic interests with the needs of the community. And once property is rezoned from residential to business, the likelihood of it ever being ‘un-zoned’ is virtually nil. It is what it’s going to be, quite likely for all time.

Rezoning, then, is a process that must be handled with care. Yet, when the first reading of a rezoning ordinance failed to even garner a second during County Council’s Sept. 10 meeting, The Voice was surprised. And so was at least one member of council.

First readings are typically innocuous affairs; just a matter of course to get the process started. Normally, they pass without much to-do. This gives the council time to gather more information and the public time to mount any opposition or support. On second reading, the real debate begins. When his motion to pass first reading failed to get so much as a sleepy nod, the Councilman from District 4 was perplexed.

The proposed business in this matter, the Williams Center for Counseling, set its sights on serving at-risk children in Fairfield County. Children who had not run afoul of the law, but whose backgrounds certainly made them candidates to do so. The Councilman from District 4 likened it to preventative medicine, and a cheaper alternative to the county lock-up or state penitentiary.

But dozens of neighbors of the Toatley Road location turned out in force to oppose the rezoning, while the proposed William Center was represented by only a single speaker – and it wasn’t the center’s namesake, nor was it the landowner. It was the brother of the landowner.

Perhaps a better showing by the Williams Center could have at least made a more persuasive case to council, if not assuaged their doubts altogether. Questions about potential duplicate services could also have been answered on second reading.

But there will be no second reading, because the motion to pass first reading evaporated in a cloud of uncomfortable silence.

The one obstacle that a second reading may not have cleared, however, is the fact that a Limited Business District (B-1) zoning has about 70 different approved uses, and if the Williams Center didn’t pan out the rezoning would have left the door open for 69 other different types of businesses to move in. We could be wrong, but that sounds just a little too broad for a single classification.