GREENVILLE — After a lengthy mulling and serious consideration because of longterm implications, the Greenville Planning Commission voted 5-1 on Thursday in favor of the potential rezoning of a residential district along M-57 near Bower Street to office space.
The vote does not approve the rezoning request, but sends the recommendation of approval to the Greenville City Council, which has the final say. Jeanne Cunliffe, a councilwoman who serves on the planning commission, gave the lone dissenting vote.
Commissioners noted the request was “very unique” in that it was supported by the city’s master plan, but had “one hitch” that complicated things.
The request was made by Sarah Mahar for the rezoning of a small parcel of property actually owned by a separate party, who is on board with the request. But that wasn’t what made it unique.
Mahar said the plan for the adjacent property is a dental office, which owns two parcels on M-57 near Veterans Park, with the property to be possibly rezoned lying adjacent. The parcels already owned by the dentistry have already been rezoned to office space and the entire block was identified in the master plan as a portion best served to be rezoned office space. The land included in the request, which is only 58 feet wide, and two other parcels butting up to Bower Street have yet to be rezoned, despite the city’s desire to eventually do so, as reflected in the master plan.
Reason for the request
Mahar said the dentistry approached the land’s owner, Lisa Holmden, about the potential for rezoning the property into the office zone and both parties were present at the meeting Thursday in favor of the request.
If approved, the change would allow additional room for parking space for the business. Because it shares property line with a residential district, current zoning rules stipulate there must be a 30-foot landscape buffer zone. By zoning Holmden’s property office, that buffer zone is then moved to the next parcel, allowing space for the parking lot on the dentistry’s parcel
“We’re trying to get ample parking on our property,” Mahar said. “Rezoning her house to office would give us a greater area to put a parking lot in.”
If the parcel is rezoned, it wouldn’t mean Holmden would have to move.
“It could be continued to be used as a house indefinitely. It becomes noncomforming, in other words it’s grandfathered in,” said planning consultant Tim Johnson.
However, any future development or if a new building were to be erected, it could not be a home and must comply with office zone requirements.
What’s the hold up?
The hurdle for the planning commission was the size of the parcel included in the request. At just 58 feet wide and 181 feet deep, the lone piece of property doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for a parcel in an office zone.
That wouldn’t be a problem with the current plans for the parking lot, but commissioners were hesitant to set a precedent of approving a rezoning of a property that didn’t meet requirements of that zone. They also feared down the road, if a new owner of that property wanted to develop an office on the property, despite it being impossible to match requirements, they would be forced to grant several variances to allow it.
Planning Commission Chairman David Ralph said approving the rezoning of a district knowing variances would be needed to comply isn’t and shouldn’t be common practice.
Risk versus reward
Because the master plan recognized an office zone would be the preferred district for this area, commissioners said they felt it tough to turn down the request, because the city itself deemed this to be the best option.
And the risk down the road of a new owner of the property “holding the commission’s feet to the fire” on development of an office building on a parcel of land too small to hold it was minimal.
Pair that with the fact the dentistry and Holmden have agreed on a right of first refusal, which gives the business first crack and purchasing the property before it can be sold to another party, and commissioners said they felt comfortable enough moving the proposal on to Council.
In her disapproval of the request, Cunliffe said she feared what may come of granting these sort of requests.
“We would be setting a precedent and in my opinion we are opening a can of worms. If that property could be purchased and added to make it fit, I would be in favor of this, but right now I think, at least in my opinion, I need to stick with what is already on the book.”
The decision now goes to the Greenville City Council.