When and how nearby residents were informed about a controversial rezoning request that would pave the way for contractor garages to replace a historically African American neighborhood in Bowling Green is at the heart of an appeal of the rezoning’s approval.
Last month, Bowling Green attorney Carlos Bailey filed an appeal with Warren Circuit Court challenging the rezoning from RM-2 (two-family residential) to General Business that the Bowling Green City Commission approved Nov. 19 in a 2-1 vote.
Developer Chris Robertson of CSR BG Investments previously told the Daily News that he first planned to build residential units in the Kenton Street and Greenwood Alley area, but that it was a business decision to instead seek a rezoning to build contractor garages.
Records from the City-County Planning Commission dated March 7 show the plans for the area had shifted by then from up to 26 housing units to the contractor garages.
Bailey said most area residents were still under the impression that the rezoning that was up for a vote at the City-County Planning Commission on Sept. 19 was for RM-3, multifamily residential, which was acceptable for area residents, who “were fine with the original plan.”
“No one had received any notice of the change,” he said.
According to City-County Planning Commission Executive Director Ben Peterson, planning commission staff Sept. 4 mailed public notification letters to 12 adjacent property owners and sent an additional 34 letters to addresses within 200 feet of the boundary of the rezoning request.
Eight letters were returned as undeliverable, Peterson said.
According to copies of the letters sent to the Daily News, the letters specified that the rezoning request was for General Business and included a concept plan for contractor garages.
Also Sept. 4, planning commission staff placed two signs, one on Kenton Street and one on Greenwood Alley, advertising the proposed rezoning from RM-2 to GB (RM-3).
Peterson said that (RM-3) was placed on the signs because in the past the planning commission had been criticized for only advertising that there was a request for a GB rezoning and members of the public did not realize that the General Business designation allows residential developments.
“We were probably a victim of providing too much information,” Peterson said.
As also required by state law, the rezoning request was advertised in the Daily News on Sept. 6 indicating that the proposal was to rezone from RM-2 to General Business.
Chris Davenport, the attorney representing CSR BG Investments, said it is not the job of applicants to notify residents of rezoning requests, but noted that the Sept. 4 letter included a concept plan “consistent with what was presented” to the City-County Planning Commission on Sept. 19.
But Bailey said more people would have shown up at that meeting if they had known contractor garages were now being proposed for the area.
Four people did speak at the meeting, according to meeting minutes. The rezoning request was recommended for approval 8-0, and then went to the Bowling Green City Commission on Nov. 5, when it was actually voted down 3-2, with commissioners Brian “Slim” Nash, Joe Denning and Dana Beasley-Brown voting no and Commissioner Sue Parrigin and Mayor Bruce Wilkerson voting yes.
The final, binding vote came Nov. 19 when it was approved 2-1 with only Beasley-Brown voting no. At that meeting, Denning, a former resident of the area, recused himself for a conflict of interest because his daughter had previously spoken against the rezoning request. Nash was serving a four-week leave of absence stemming from a settlement with the Bowling Green ethics board after his May arrest on charges of public intoxication.
At both city commission meetings, only people who spoke at the Sept. 19 planning commission meeting were allowed to speak before the vote and reiterate the comments they made at the planning meeting. That process stems from a requirement that commissioners only vote on the record presented to them by the planning commission. The city commission could decide to hold its own rezoning request hearing and accept new evidence, but a motion made by Beasley-Brown to table the vote at the Nov. 19 meeting died for lack of a second.
Bailey said the notice given to residents that contractor garages were to be built “was not adequate,” and when the plan changed, “people directly impacted had no say.”
He said the appeal plaintiffs “want to make sure ... that everybody has input when you are making such a drastic change to a neighborhood.”
Peterson, however, said “we did what we were supposed to do ... and went above and beyond what is required.”
Former area residents who spoke to the Daily News have said the seven homes slated to be demolished for the garages were the heart of a tight-knit African American community for decades with many notable residents.
The appeal also claims that the commercial use of the property is not compatible with the county’s comprehensive plan.
Bailey said the area, with most homes in question built in the 1940s, has “always been residential (now) you’re bringing in trucks.”
Davenport said the proposal is consistent with the comprehensive plan, as evidenced by the unanimous planning commission decision to approve the rezoning request.
The plaintiffs in the appeal, which asks that the rezoning be declared null and void, are area residents Deborah Anthony and Felicia Bland and three area churches: 11th Street Baptist Church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Seventh Street Baptist Church.
– Emily Zantow contributed to this report.