Jeff council rezones property for new multi-family housing

“Anywhere but on my block” was the message residents of the two blocks east of St Joseph Parish Center gave the Jefferson city council Tuesday.

Four residents who live near the 12-unit multi-family housing project proposed for a vacant half-block of the 500 block of N. Olive St spoke at a public hearing on rezoning the property single-family to multi-family.

Although many recent public hearings held by the city council have lasted less than three minutes, the hearing on rezoning lasted 38 minutes.

Paul Richardson spoke first. He gave mayor Craig Berry a petition signed by 42 residents who oppose the housing development at that location. Richardson said signers of the petition “don’t want the extra traffic and the things that come along with it.”

He said the petition signers aren’t against developer Andy Rowland or progress in the city. “They don’t want to change the peaceful atmosphere with all that extra traffic with 12 families and 12 cars and all the traffic coming down the alley way. It’s just going to change the whole atmosphere of the neighborhood,” Richardson said.

Lisa Richardson also spoke, chastising the city council for not making agendas easier to find. According to the Richardsons, they didn’t know anything about the project until Rowland staked out building perimeters last week.

City council member Matt Gordon reported he had knocked on doors in the neighborhood to hear what residents thought of the project. He heard concerns about the particular site, that the property wouldn’t be maintained, that not all nearby neighbors received notification of the zoning action, of increased traffic and the possibility stop signs would be put up.

The buildings will face west on the east side of the block. Garage access will be off an alley. Residents of the 500 block of N. Cedar St who will be back-to-back neighbors of the new housing complained the project will require taking out shrubs and apple trees along the alley way. City zoning officer Nick Sorensen verified the city has never vacated the alley, and that when residents planted on the property they were actually trespassing on city property.

Phyllis Crowder lives across the street to the north of the project. She said it’s the wrong site and the new buildings “will stick out like a sore thumb.” She worries the yards and buildings won’t be maintained and that the rent will be too high, leaving the apartments empty so they eventually become HUD housing.

Chris Anderson spoke in favor of the project on behalf of his employer, Scranton Manufacturing. He said their pool of potential employees has gotten younger and they’d be more interested in new apartments than in the older rental housing that’s prevalent now.

Sid Jones, president of Greene County Development Corporation, repeated what he has said for several years about the need for “workforce” housing like Rowland’s project. He said other locations were suggested for the project but none of the property owners were willing to sell at a price that would make the project financially do-able.

St Joseph Catholic Church has owned the property for decades, he said. Jones is a parishioner at St Joseph; he said the parish council is excited to see residential development there and hopes parish members will consider living there. “The people living there will be residential-minded,” Jones said.

St Joseph parish council member Bill Raney said he’s excited to see development in that part of town, and that one reason the parish built Paul Nally Park was to spur development in that part of town.

When developer Rowland spoke, he asked the council not only to approve the zoning change, but also to waive the second and third readings of the necessary ordinance so he can start construction soon. He wants to start building in August so he can be finished and have tenants living there before this winter.

“I’m taking a risk. I’m investing a lot of money in the community with really not knowing if I can get the rents I need and if I can fill them up. I’m making a huge investment in the community for something no one’s ever done in new construction,” he said.

He referred to the Water Tower development proposed by JCorp a few years ago that wasn’t built because of an inability to get financing without adequate assurance the units would fill and the project would cash flow.

“I think I can make this work. I’m a smaller scale. Everything will be as well maintained as a normal property,” Rowland said.

After closing the public hearing the council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance to change the zoning. The council then passed a motion waiving the second and third readings of the ordinance. Rowland now can move forward with the project.

After the longer-than-usual public hearing, a discussion of purchasing a fairway mower for the municipal golf course also went long, even though the purchase was planned as part of the large general obligation bond issue approved earlier this summer.

The council approved the purchase of a used 2015 mower with 900 hours on a cost of $29,500. Gordon voted against the motion. During the discussion he questioned if enough time had been put into researching all the options.

The council approved the replacement of the roof at the water treatment plant at a cost of $69,000, with Grell Roofing doing the work. The company’s bid was significantly less than two other bids received. Grell has done several jobs in Jefferson recently, including the public library roof.

The council also approved the first reading of an ordinance amending the current ordinance regarding solid waste pick-up. The changes are required to match the procedures of automated trash collection, set to begin the first week in September.

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