To the editor:
This is a reply and comment to Dale Liesch’s editorial “Not in My Backyard” and the letter of Barbara Knowles Smith given the title of “Elimination of African American Residences in Spring Hill,” both contained in the September 11 – 17 issue. Both unfortunately left the readers with incorrect impressions of the effect of the proposed partial rezoning of the 6-acre parcel, fronting on Springhill Avenue and lying west of the dozen homes on Knowles Lane. That parcel is owned by St. Ignatius Church, which has unsuccessfully attempted to sell it for the past 10 years as currently zoned for residential use, R-1. The church has determined to sell it in connection with the construction of a new sanctuary on its nearby parcel.
I represent Dr. Mary Edmonds, a veterinarian, who has agreed to purchase the property on the condition that the frontage on Springhill Avenue be zoned B-1, in part so that she can relocate her Spring Hill Animal Clinic to one of the lots. Her proposal does not affect the residential zoning on the majority of the property. The development of the clinic will benefit the Knowles Lane neighborhood by diverting 40 percent of the stormwater (which currently flows steeply downhill, uncontrolled) into the storm sewer. Due to the presence of vegetation buffers and fencing exceeding the city requirements, coupled with the steep slope of the land, it is highly doubtful that the Knowles Lane residents would ever hear any dog barking from the clinic.
Mr. Liesch correctly stated that the Planning Staff recommended denial of the rezoning request, noting its claim that in her application, Dr. Edmonds failed to provide evidence of “changes in the area to justify rezoning” and “need” for other business sites. However, he failed to advise the readers of the more important fact that the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the rezoning to B-1 (the lowest business classification). This was the correct vote, based on the obvious commercial additions and changes at North McGregor and along Springhill Avenue (directly across the street from the proposed B-1 lots). A new, 12,000-square-foot medical services building will be constructed on the B-2 corner. Along North McGregor, the new, commercial-first Village of Springhill development has begun. The blue, two-story building is already operational, with more to follow. There are several businesses located west along Springhill Avenue. This site is the only one available for Dr. Edmonds on Springhill Avenue.
Ms. Smith unfortunately expressed her view along racial lines, claiming that because the votes were cast by white commissioners, it was somehow an effort to decrease the Knowles Lane property values and/or to further eliminate such African American neighbors. She claims that the commercial development along North McGregor Avenue has decreased the values of the homes on Sheips Lane and Mordecai Lane owned by African Americans. From personal experience, I can state that the African American owner of a residence on North McGregor at Mordecai, which is appraised by the county at less than $80,000, has offered to sell it to another client for $350,000. That demonstrates no devaluation, but rather an enhanced value by reason of the commercial development.
My hope is that the zoning request, which is based on specific legal criteria under the law, will be viewed fairly and objectively by the City Council. Everyone can agree that Lady Justice is blind precisely because the application of the law must be made without regard to age, race, station or other factors. For that reason, politics and race which have no place in the courtroom should have no place in the council’s consideration of this rezoning request.
William M. Lyon, Jr.
LYON LAW FIRM, P.C.
Editor’s note: “Not in my backyard” was not an editorial, but a news story and contained no opinion from the writer. Also, the City Council can only vote on a zoning matter that was passed by the Planning Commission. The fact the staff recommended denial before the Planning Commission recommended it was of importance in the story.
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