Saturday, July 2, 2011

THE GREAT HANG UPS HANG UP: Masterful zoning or disaster-ful planning?

A broken promise; a shocking allegation
COLUMBIA, 6/30/11  (Beat Byte) -- A stunning allegation -- that the City of Columbia will receive a significant property easement, free of charge, to widen West Broadway at the corner of West Blvd. if the City Council approves a controversial rezoning request for the Great Hangups frame shop at the corner -- was part of a presentation to the North Central Neighborhood Association (NCCNA) by Historic Sunset Lane Neighborhood Association Janice "Cookie" Hagan earlier this month. 
The property giveaway -- if true -- poses a serious conflict of interest:  The public, governing body charged with approving or disapproving a project could receive a significant benefit, but only if it approves.  It also marks yet another sneaky turn in the tumult over what the Columbia Business Times calls "the most controversial corner in Columbia." 
In October, the Columbia City Council voted 5-2 against the rezoning request, triggering a year-long wait for the applicants to reapply.  But applicants Mark Nichols and Patra Mierzwa are back already -- less than nine months later, prompting neighborhood suspicions about City Hall's intentions.  
"This doesn't feel right," Sunset Lane resident Mary Achor told the Columbia Heart Beat.  
By way of both warning and commiseration, Hagan showed a short video entitled "Will This Happen to Your Neighborhood?" to NCCNA board members while describing the history of a presumptive promise the Columbia City Council made on Oct. 4, 2010 -- and then broke -- not to reconsider the rezoning request for one year after voting against it. 
To a person, Council members condemned the rezoning effort for lacking a "site plan" that would provide some guarantees to wary residents about plans for the half-block area, owned by Nichols and Mierzwa. 
"What we are all in agreement with is that we are uncomfortable without a plan," said Mayor Bob McDavid at the time. 

"On October 4, 2010 we received a super majority vote of the Columbia City Council that denied the applicant's rezoning request and supported our request for a Site Plan," Hagan told the Columbia Heart Beat.  
By city law, the City Council's 5-2 vote against the plan should have shelved the effort for a year, but it reappeared -- with unanimous approval no less -- in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission this month.  
"Now, some on the City Council think they 'made a mistake' and the city has allowed Great Hangups to re-apply, BEFORE the year was up," said Mary Achor.  "Not only that, they waived the re-application fees."  
"We do not feel that a rezoning request should be back on the Planning and Zoning agenda until a Site Plan has been submitted," Hagan added.

At a meeting Achor characterized as "totally wasted," a Planning and Zoning Commissioner "got into a pissing match with Cookie Hagan.   Nothing we heard made sense." 
What's more, "we were told that the neighbors would have to submit all new letters, petitions, etc., even though Great Hangups did not have to pay new fees," Achor explained.  
Will This Happen to Your Neighborhood video:

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