Let us continue today with the discussion of the rezoning hearing involving 802 S. Western, 2302 and 2324 W. Eighth Streets. The City Council voted last week to send the rezoning back to the Planning Commission for another hearing.

Let us start with the 2030 Comprehensive Plan that encouraged this rezoning request in the first place. This CP was completed in 2013 through the work of a large committee of local residents and City staff. An important provision of the report was the statement in the Conclusion that the plan “Will be reviewed and updated” every five years. Although it should have been updated in 2018, this plan has never been updated.

Considering the length and topics this CP covers, it is easy to see how a prediction that Western Road would be commercial by 2030 could have been included with little or no discussion. If the CP maps were examined for all the changes to neighborhood designation, there might be other unwarranted predictions.

The prediction that the neighborhood blocks of Western from Eighth through Twelfth would have changed to commercial properties by 2030 could only have fit in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. A rezoning at Twelfth and Western was the only change that had taken place since the neighborhood started over 50 years ago. That rezoning took place in the ’80s.

According to City Manager Norman McNickle, the plan had been reviewed since 2013 but not updated. McNickle also added the plan is set for a complete revision in the 2022-2023 budget year.

One would presume the designation of Western as commercial would be recognized as not accurate in this comprehensive revision. It must have been made by someone with the view of Stillwater as a town about to grow with many people moving to the community for expanding business opportunities. It was made by someone with “high hopes” for Stillwater’s growth.

The problem now with that designation is Development Services uses it in the information provided for this rezoning request. There is no explanation that this designation had to be an error that will be corrected when the plan is revised.

The 2030 Plan has been brought up in the previous two zoning requests on Western since that 2013 CP was developed with one rezoning of the Jay property approved and the first one at 2302 West 8th denied.

The prediction is taken at face value when it is straight out of The Twilight Zone.

Then there is the other prediction out of The Twilight Zone. Starting in 1968, Western has been destined to become four-lane with a possible turning lane also. Since this plan was predicted 53 years ago, it is doubtful it is about to happen.

When I asked McNickle about this plan, he said, “From what I can find, widening Western from Twelfth to Sixth has been continually discussed. As to the why it has not been widened, I think it would be because of the cost and there were other existing streets that needed attention. As you are aware, the condition of our streets has been an ongoing discussion since 2008.

“As to who would approve the widening of Western, that would be the Council. We take all of our street improvements to the Council for approval. And the City would pay for right-of-way acquisition and pay for widening the street. I do recall (don’t remember the year) there was internal discussion of buying houses from Sixth to Twelfth as they came on the market. But that did not happen either. That would have been prior to November of 2015.”

For this rezoning request, Development Services mentioned the plan to widen Western to four lanes. There was mention this idea was proposed in 1968 and nothing more has been done about it.

In summary – why is Development Services using the 2030 CP designation and the four-lane plan without explanation that they are essentially both false as far as the current situation on Western? There is no sign this status will change in the next few years.

This rezoning request does not help the neighborhood nor does it help the City.

You are wondering, “Why doesn’t it help the City? Why is commercial zoning in their plan if it would not help them?”

If Planning Commissioners and City Councilors take this commercial zoning to be accurate, then this rezoning will encourage more rezoning requests along Western, especially by those who own rental property as opposed to homeowners. So the prediction starts happening – Western as a lovely neighborhood street starts fading as commercial businesses appear. If there is no funding for a wider Western, then the traffic issues will worsen due to the entry/exit to these various businesses. A two-lane Perkins Road will not help the traffic situation.

If the City does find funding for four-laning, they will then have the businesses to pay for acquisition of right-of way. That could add to the cost more than acquiring right-of-way from residential property owners.

So what is gained by this rezoning? Nothing is gained for the neighborhood or the City. As several speakers said at the hearing, Stillwater has much vacant office space available now. Main Street has empty buildings.

What is lost by this rezoning? The neighborhood is the loss. This rezoning would be the start of “it’s only an extension.” Six speakers said eloquently what would be lost. Bill Mclean, Brian Correa, Jim Shidler, Steve Trompler, Adam Naff and Betsy Showalter mentioned in so many ways the neighborhood’s importance.

Adam Naff, who lives in the Westwood area, said the people who don’t even live in this area do not support the rezoning.

Naff observed, “There is no need to go into a vibrant, beautiful neighborhood.”

Bill Mclean talked about the importance of respecting the neighborhood.

Jim Shidler observed this type of rezoning is detrimental to the community. He questioned, “Does the City want the core to become a low-rent district?”

Brian Correa talked about the children in homes on Eighth.

Steve Trompler listed all the businesses and other services that have been available on Western with that listing showing the neighborhood does not need more.

Bill McClean said the rezoning ignores the integrity of the neighborhood.

Betsy Showalter asked the Councilors to “respect our neighborhood. Don’t dismiss us.”

Finally, let us return to the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. One of the goals specified is to “maintain the established character of existing neighborhoods.” Unlike inflated predictions for commercial zoning or plans for a four-lane Western, maintaining the established character of existing neighborhoods is not in The Twilight Zone.

Those six speakers said the same thing – neighborhoods are important. Whether you live in the Western Road neighborhood or on Skyline, all neighborhoods contribute to making a strong City.

This rezoning is not the way to maintain the established character of an existing neighborhood, a neighborhood that stands as an attractive entry to Stillwater as well as a home to many residents for over fifty years. That 2030 CP goal is one the City should follow.

Julie Couch is a longtime Stillwater resident.

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