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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Growth Plan's Flexibility Tested - Fails

Monday's Janesville city council meeting had one of those "who blinked first" moments during a discussion over what appeared to be a rather harmless zoning change request for a banquet hall on the west side of town.

The applicant's request for B3 zoning which would allow for "permitted use" of a banquet hall was not recommended by the city administration. They advised the council to modify the request to a B2 zoning designation which would allow for a less favorable "conditional use." No big deal, right? But who would think that a request to change zoning on an existing developed parcel would pose a test of both the city's Comprehensive Plan and the city council's flexibility and integrity? At first not me, but such was the case during Monday's meeting.

To see this relationship unfold we have to rewind slightly to a little over three months ago when city council members each presented their positions on the city's growth (Comprehensive) plan. During that meeting, several council members justified their vote in favor of the Comp Plan passage by insisting it was not set in stone because each zoning, annexation or development request would be judged case-by-case.

Possibly unaware of the banquet hall zoning connection to the Comp Plan, council members during Monday's meeting quickly moved to make a motion to approve the original request changing the parcel zoning from O1 to B3. After a short discussion among the council, they appeared to be on the verge of approving the B3 until the City Manager, Eric Levitt, interrupted and repeatedly warned the council members that changing the zoning on this particular parcel to B3 runs counter to the recently approved Comprehensive Plan and that doing so would set "a new and dangerous precedent." Well, if there ever was a time for the Janesville city council to demonstrate the flexibility they spoke about when they hastily approved of the Comp Plan several months ago - now was that time.

Although the city manager offered few details as to why the B3 request was not consistent with the growth plan, he did make it clear to the council that any deviation from the plan now could damage the plan's integrity. After a few more assurances by the administration that the zoning change applicant would not be charged additional money (from multiple applications), the city council surrendered to the manager's suggestion and approved of the rezone, but only to the Comp Plan-compliant B2.

However, in retrospect, this "growth plan set-in-stone awakening" at Monday's meeting clearly proved that months ago, several city council members spoke either prematurely or unknowingly when they claimed the Comprehensive Plan was not a rigid document but just a guideline that could be changed at any time. It also brings attention as to why the city manager failed to question, rebut, correct or even politely challenge the council member's claims during the city's run-up to approve of the Comp Plan. Yet he had no reservations now advising the council against exercising any flexibility they previously insisted the Comp Plan possessed.

This entire city council episode including the potential and serious implications it held with the Comp Plan received the following report in the Janesville Gazette.
JG Excerpt:-- Rezoned the former Moose Club at 120 N. Crosby Ave. so the owner can build a banquet facility in the basement.

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