Can parking lots and greenways coexist? Residents who live near a city-owned grassy lot on Asheland Avenue asked City Council members at their formal session on April 27 to reconsider a plan to sell the property to Rex Ballard, who plans to turn a portion of it into a parking lot serving his adjacent office complex.
Mel Thomason said Council members had “disconnected” their desire for more parks and greenways from their urge to generate revenue through the sale of surplus property. The property, he pointed out, is zoned for business use and, once sold, could have a 30,000-square-foot building constructed on it. The property is just downhill and one street over from a neighborhood, bordering Asheland Avenue, that is already encroached upon by commercial development, Thomason added.
But city staff countered that utility lines run under the property, making it unusable as a building site. As for its potential as a greenway, no matter who develops it, the city retains a 100-foot right of way along Asheland Avenue, so that strip, which extends well past the sidewalk, is likely remain covered in grass, making it a good candidate for a greenway link.
But Council member Barbara Field agreed with Thomason’s assessment that the city should re-evaluate the proposed sale. Although Ballard has offered $139,000 for the 0.6-acre parcel, she recommended that Council delay advertising for upset bids, while staff members reconsider what options exist for the property.
Council member O.T. Tomes noted that parks-and-recreation consultants had strongly urged Council “to conserve all our land.” And he reiterated his ongoing concern about the loss of residential properties in the predominantly African-American neighborhoods that border Asheland Avenue.
Mayor Leni Sitnick suggested tabling the issue until Council’s May 11 formal session. Council members agreed unanimously with that recommendation.
Asheland rezoning postponed
Apologies didn’t stop city residents from grumbling during Council’s April 27 formal session.
At issue was the proposed rezoning of eight Asheland Avenue/South Grove Street lots from Office Business to Office II — which would reduce by about half the allowable size of any new buildings erected on those properties. Several businesses are already in operation there, some in former homes.
Nearly a dozen nearby residents had attended a public hearing on the proposal in February, to express their concerns about the possible impacts of future commercial development on their neighborhood.
And now the residents were back, to speak again. But Mayor Sitnick informed the group, “We do have an attorney for the property owners requesting that we postpone the hearing.” The group of residents grumbled and muttered a bit at the thought of having to table their comments until some future date, but Sitnick explained that property owners for the eight lots had recently acquired a new attorney to represent them in the case.
Council member Chuck Cloninger remarked, “I do hate that there are some people here who will be inconvenienced.”
“That’s right,” a woman in the group tossed back.
But Council has a policy of honoring such requests, Cloninger continued.
Sitnick added that it “would be nice” if Council had a policy requiring more notice for such postponement requests — at least two days, so that staff would have time to call people planning to attend the meetings. The property owners’ attorney had submitted his request one day before the scheduled public hearing, she mentioned.
Council member Earl Cobb spoke in favor of Sitnick’s suggestion, but Cloninger cautioned against setting a hard-and-fast policy, recommending, instead, that Council discuss the idea further at an upcoming work session.
Cloninger then made a motion to table the hearing until May 11. Seconded by Tommy Sellers, the motion passed, 6-0 (Vice Mayor Ed Hay was absent from the meeting).
Said Sitnick to the residents’ group, “We do apologize.”