City council approves strip mall development

City Editor and City Editor

Plans for a strip mall located on East Wooster Street can continue after four months of debate and controversy regarding a zoning change between residents and developers.

City council voted 4-3 in favor of approving a zoning change, which would allow the owners of the lot between North Prospect and North Summit streets to construct a strip mall. The mall would consist of office spaces on the ground floor with efficiency residential apartments on the second story.

The proposed strip mall would begin construction in July or August.

The initial B-3 zoning change was requested back in October, but was met with opposition from the surrounding residents. They feared the possibility of later developers constructing a four-story apartment complex and lower property values.

The community’s reaction prompted city council to create a new zone, B-5, which limits a building to two stories while also restricting residential space to the second floor, conforming to the developers’ original site plan.

The reason a commercial building can be constructed on the block, which consists of mostly residential properties, is because it had already been a commercial zone rather than a residential one.

Although the zone was changed, the council’s narrow decision reflected the mixed feelings of the audience.

“A huge effort has taken place to make the zoning more palatable for those opposed,” said Robert McOmber, At-Large council member.

A few months ago, everyone feared the possibility of a four-story student apartment, but now complaints are focused on the placing of buffers, McOmber said. The council member was referring to the compromise between the city and developers to appease residents in continuing with the project.

Rather than hold out for future development, which might come decades from now, McOmber said he would support this development now.

First Ward Council Member Daniel Gordon voted against the change because of his constituents’ opposition.

“Although some have said that residents opposed to the strip mall are simply ‘afraid of change,’ this is an inaccurate characterization of legitimate expressed concerns,” Gordon said. “Residents merely request that such change is consistent with the residential character and integrity of the neighborhood. That reasonable request guides my vote today.”

Community members who voiced their concerns about the zoning mainly asked city council and the developers to reconsider widening the buffering zones along the property lines shared by the residents.

Both resident Vassiliki Leontis and attorney Norman Geer, who represented another community member, asked for a five-foot extension to the buffers along the properties.

But the developers were not willing to compromise any further.

“We can’t move the wall,” said developer Steve Green. “We’ve been in this process for four months, we’re not here to change anything.”

Green said moving the walls back would create engineering problems with drainage and parking, which he said would be put in a tight space already.

Other city officials showed support for the developers, warning city council that a negative vote could hurt later potential for investors to come to the city.

“What message are we sending to local community-minded folks,” said Earlene Kilpatrick of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, “that we are resistant to change and growth?”

Kilpatrick and a few other council members commended the developers for their patience in the process and their willingness to work with residents before they amended and passed the zoning change.

After the meeting, Michelle Green, who represented the developers, said they were excited and pleased with council’s decision and they planned to break ground on the strip mall later this summer.