First reading held on zoning change despite lack of barrier wording

Carla Slavey I CJ

Somerset resident Monty Gover addresses the council Monday on behalf of a group of Ringgold Road residents. Some are concerned that a proposed zoning change doesn't have wording that would require a developer to add a privacy barrierĀ around an apartment complex being developed in that area.

The council's consensus on a zoning change on Bluegrass Drive is that a proposed development on that property needs to have it in writing that a barricade will be placed to protect neighborhood residents.

The property in question, currently zoned Residential-1 (R-1) and which allows only single-dwelling homes, was on the agenda of Monday's Somerset Council meeting for a first reading on a change to Residential-3 (R-3). The change would allow the developer to build an apartment building.

The property adjoins land already zoned R-3, and an apartment building already is being built on that land.

Somerset resident Monty Gover addressed the council, saying that homeowners in the area would like to see it put in writing that a privacy fence or some kind of protection be required for the apartment complex. Gover said that request was shot down during the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing on the zoning change.

"When the commission members tried to ask questions about that and make suggestions about how they could protect, and what kind of barriers, the moderator told them that they could not talk about that. That they could get in trouble with the federal government. I don't know where that came from," Gover said.

Without having it in writing, residents were afraid there would be no course of action for them if a barrier wasn't placed.

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck responded to Gover's comments, saying, "I've had discussions with several who live in the area. I have given them assurances that we'll work towards a solution, and I've also talked with members of the council to get their opinion and insight.

But when it came time for the first reading of the zoning change - and despite it not being an action that would require a vote until the second reading - some council members were reluctant to hold that first reading without revising the wording.

"I'd like to know that there's going to be that buffer and fence and all that to meet those specifications for those people out there before we even do the first reading," said Councilor Jim Mitchell.

He felt it would prevent having to go back and do another first reading on the ordinance if it is amended.

Then, there's the question of whether such a request can even be made under the city's current zoning plan. When asked, city building inspector Joe Lyons said that commercial property is required to have a buffer between itself and residential areas, but since this is another residential construction, it's not required.

The developer is proposing a buffer, Lyons told the council.

Still, councilors wanted to see assurances in what they will be voting on.

Tom Eastham even questioned if they could make changes without holding a hearing, saying he was in favor of the addition of a buffer.

City Attorney said he would need to look into whether the council can require the additions in the ordinance.

Council John Ricky Minton voiced his opinion, saying, "If we have the first reading, and then next meeting we come up to vote on it, and nothing's been done, we as a council shouldn't pass it. Why are even having the first reading without us being able to see that's definitely in there. If we wait and have our first reading and it's in there, then there's not going to be any problem."

Lyons said he would contact the developer to make sure a buffer is added to the site plan.

Ultimately, the first reading was held after Mayor Keck's recommendation.