NM Planning & Zoning Votes Against Rezoning Request

By Dianne Sudbrock

The New Melle Planning and Zoning commission met Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at New Melle Sports and Rec. Present were P&Z Chairman Ken Birk, Mayor Richard West, Alderman Nik Bradley, Commissioner Brian Nelson, and Commissioner Trevor Goodman.

Items on the agenda included a rezoning request for 4583 Hwy. Z (a lot adjacent to and south of The Greenwood Group.) The property is owned by Pete Schepis, who also owns The Greenwood Group. The parcel is approximately 5 acres. Schepis wishes to keep approximately 1 acre around the existing house residential, and use the remaining portion to expand his business.

This matter has been discussed for several months. The P&Z Commission originally recommended the rezoning could be approved, with the understanding that everything would be on a conditional basis. However, if a business is listed as a “permitted” use under the requested zoning classification (C3 “Highway Commercial District”, which allows “Landscape Contracting Services) the city cannot impose additional conditions. So when the matter came before the Board of Aldermen in January, they sent it back to P&Z for further review.

Despite Schepis’ personal promises that he will be a good corporate neighbor, and promises to beef up the required buffering between his property and the adjacent residential properties, there has been substantial opposition from some residents who live along Conor Court.  Their back yards are adjacent to the subject property.

At the July 15 meeting, Schepis submitted a plan that reconfigured the shape of the proposed residential portion of the property. The new configuration created a “flag lot” which is a lot with a long thin strip of land extending out from a larger parcel. In this case, the thin strip of land extended along the entire length of the south side of the 5-acre parcel. The strip would have been adjacent to the residential lots on Conor Court, and would have added a 22.8 ft strip between those residences and commercial portion of the property. An additional 20-foot landscape buffer would have bordered the commercial lot.

The city engineer pointed out the proposed rezoning is not consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, which identified that parcel as residential. When the comprehensive plan was adopted in 2019, both this property, and the adjacent lot directly to the south (4591 Hwy. Z) were designated as residential. The property at 4591 (now occupied by Catala Facial Retreat and Boutique) has since been rezoned to C-2 “General Business District”.

Schepis stated he felt that since 4591 Hwy. Z had been rezoned for commercial use, his property at 4583 Hwy. Z (which is between the boutique and The Greenwood Group) should also be rezoned commercial. 

There are differences between the types of businesses that are permitted in C2 and C3. The differences are defined in Appendix A of the city codes, a 42-page document available on the city’s website. In very general terms, the businesses in C3 could potentially involve larger, heavier commercial traffic and equipment than the types of businesses permitted in C2.
Once a property is zoned to a specific commercial classification, any business that is listed as a “Permitted” or “Conditional” use in that classification would be allowed to operate on that property. The property would not revert back to residential zoning if, for instance, the property was someday sold. Additional concerns cited by the adjacent homeowners included increased noise and dust.

There was substantial discussion during the meeting and a few contentious remarks were made. Schepis and his attorney stated several times that changing the zoning for commercial was the highest and best use for the property. They also pointed out that Schepis had tried to comply with every suggestion and request, and that he had been a good corporate citizen in the community for 16 years. The commissioners asked prepared questions such as if Schepis had met with the homeowners in person to try to work out a plan that was acceptable to them.  Schepis said he had not because of the opposition previously expressed.

In the end, the recommendation to rezone the property failed by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Goodman casting the only vote in favor. The request for rezoning will now go back to the Board of Alderman – most likely at their August meeting. The aldermen could vote to uphold the P&Z recommendation and not approve the rezoning, or they could choose to go against P&Z and approve the rezoning.

Other business:
•    There will be a Public Hearing on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 to consider revising the city’s zoning codes to allow conditional uses to be put on all new commercial properties that abut residential properties. Proponents of the plan believe this will offer additional protections to homeowners. Opponents say the ability of the city to place additional restrictions on properties beyond what is specified in the zoning codes will increase costs and deter development.
•    University of Missouri Extension consultant: Chairman Birk would like to continue discussions with Alex Reichert, a University of Missouri Extension Consultant, regarding the city’s zoning codes.
•    A volunteer application for Allen Hanner to serve on P&Z will be removed from future agendas. Hanner was not present.

New Business:
•    A site development plan for 112 St. Charles Street was tabled. More information is needed.

The next P&Z meeting should be August 4, following the public hearing on allowing conditional uses on all commercial properties at abut residential lots. Check for posted notices at the New Melle Post Office and on the Boone Country Connection website.