City Council votes 6-2 to change zoning at Cherry Street site

City Council votes 6-2 to change zoning at Cherry Street site by David Lias The Vermillion City Council has paved the way for a new Casey's General Store to be located on Cherry Street.

By a vote of 6-2, with Alderman Kevin Annis abstaining to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, the council agreed to change the zoning of three lots on the southwest corner of the intersection of Dakota and Cherry Streets from residential to commercial.

The owner of the lots, Jeanette Stone, has entered into a purchase agreement with Casey's. She and personnel from the chain of convenience stores first addressed the council with this matter April 17, presenting the city with a petition for a zoning change.

The council took no action at that time, in part to give City Attorney Martin Weeks a chance to research the matter and determine if the zone change request was before the city legally.

In an April 27 letter to Mayor William Radigan, Weeks stated that, in his opinion, Stone had met procedural requirements of both state law and city ordinances.

Weeks noted that Stone initiated the proceeding by a petition presented to the city's planning commission. A motion to approve the zoning change failed before the commission on a 4-4 vote.

"It is my opinion under these circumstances the question is properly before the council, and the council may adopt, reject, or amend the proposed ordinance ?" Weeks wrote.

Alderman Roger Kozak moved that the city approve the zone change from R-2 to B-1 for Stone's property and place an ordinance for the proposed change on its first reading. The motion was seconded, allowing debate on the proposal to begin.

Alderman Barbara Yelverton told fellow members of the council that she would not support the construction of a convenience store and gas station at the corner.

"In my opinion, it's the continuing of the degradation of the neighborhood," she said. "Next year, when another commercial entity comes through and wants to knock down another house and we allow them, we're going to have a commercial strip along Dakota rather than residential."

Garret Bruening, a USD student representative on the city council, shared similar concerns.

"I did speak with the Senate Association about this, and they have the same fears � that it will become a commercial district rather than a residential area," he said. "We really don't want to see another Casey's there, in fact we don't want to see anything in that location. We are quite happy with the residential surrounding USD currently has."

"There probably is not a more logical location in the city of Vermillion than to be on the corner of Cherry and Dakota to place a business enterprise," Kozak said. "It basically is almost surrounded by commercial at this particular time, with the credit union directly west and in addition we have a commercial cleaning service just south of that credit union."

Kozak noted that at the council's April 17 meeting, the idea of placing adding an additional Casey's to Vermillion was criticized because there are already several gas stations located on Cherry Street.

"I don't think the city should be in the business of regulating the number of types of retail units we have in the city," he said. "Next it will be Pizza Huts, it will be grocery stores, or whatever, and I don't think that's the business of the city."

Alderman Frank Slagle noted that after giving much thought to the issue, he had decided to support the zoning change.

"When I look at Cherry Street, from Dakota Street west, it is commercial," he said.

He said he also agreed it not up to council members to decide if whether Vermillion needs a second Casey's store.

"It seems to me like the people who are going to put three-quarters of a million dollars on the plate are better equipped to make that determination. In fact, they are experts at location. They have not been a successful convenience store chain by making bad choices as to where they are going to locate their business."

Slagle noted the new business will add to the tax base of the community, and help reduce everybody's property taxes.

Representatives from Casey's informed the council at its last meeting that the store would hire six to 10 employees. Slagle said that those jobs are important, even if they are entry level with no benefits.

"I think that every town has a different need for different types of jobs," he said, "and one of the things that has been discouraging to students is whether or not they have adequate employment opportunities.

"It seems to me if the university is going to be successful in attracting students, and by definition that means that our local business establishments and our citizens will do better because we have that kind of investment in our community," Slagle added, "that we will be able to enhance that by having greater job opportunities for students ? I think that every little bit helps."

Yelverton noted that the input received from Dakota Street property owners at the last city council meeting indicates they fear how changing a portion of the neighborhood from residential to commercial will affect them.

"They are worried about the ruination of their neighborhood as they know it as a residential area," she said. "I think we need to think about it. It's not the folks living on Dakota Street's problem that we've zoned Cherry Street in a very disorganized way, and I'll be the first to say that Cherry Street � a lot of it is commercial � but it's zoned very poorly. So do we allow a neighborhood to be degraded by beginning the commercialization of it?"

Vermillion attorney Craig Thompson, who is representing Kolly Fostvedt, told the council that he believes Week's interpretation of the issue is not completely valid.

Fostvedt owns rental property adjoining Stone's property to the south, and business rental property to the southwest across an alley from the proposed zone change.

"I believe that the picture is rather hazy," Thompson said. "It's absolutely subject to some interpretation, and in fact I really think it's still improperly before the council."

He urged the aldermen to remember the opposition they heard to the proposal at the council's last meeting, and the fact that the city zoning commission failed to recommend approval of the zoning change.

Yankton attorney Steve Pier, who represents Casey's, told aldermen that he feels the zoning proposal is properly before the council.

"Casey's has informed me that they do not intend to close the store on East Cherry Street," Pier said. "Business can sometimes change things in the future, but at the present time, from all indications, that store is going to remain open. Casey's is making a commitment to this city that this (new) store is a second store. They feel that strongly about this community."

"We're talking about should the law be changed for one person?" said George Horner, who resides at 414 N. Dakota and spoke in opposition to the zoning change at the last council meeting. "We are spot zoning, which is not supposed to be permitted. It's supposed to be by entire areas or districts."

The people who are speaking in favor of the zoning change, he added, don't live on Dakota Street. "It is not Vermillion's best district, but it is our district," he said, referring to fellow homeowners on Dakota Street who share his sentiments. "It is not Vermillion's best neighborhood, but it is our neighborhood."

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