Walnut rezoning plan draws some criticism; alternate plans suggested

Thursday, October 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:25 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Commercial zoning requests for two adjacent tracts on East Walnut Street are raising objections from city planners, who believe the rezoning could lead to undesirable businesses in a part of the downtown area that doesn’t have a “commercial feel.”

Newton Riley is asking the city for C-2, or central business district, zoning on his property that includes Dearing Hall, a former dormitory of Stephens College used for apartments. Riley declined comment on his request, which goes before the city Planning and Zoning Commission at 7 p.m. today on the fourth floor of the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway.

A report from city planners recommends the commission deny the C-2 zoning. “While the idea of having some commercial activities in this area may have merit,” the staff report says, “it should be noted that this part of the downtown does not have a commercial feel. It continues to reflect the atmosphere of the Stephens College campus.”

The report notes that the zoning being sought includes uses that “would not be appropriate, such as bars, fast-food restaurants, car washes and automobile repair facilities.” Staff also noted that there are no restrictions on the height of structures or how far they must be set back from the street under C-2 zoning.

“We just think that C-2 will have some problems,” city planner Mitch Skov said. “It’s not on the appropriate spot for more C-2 zoning,” especially the former dormitory on the corner of College and Walnut, “because that’s a nice looking building, its got nice landscaping, it has a residential look to it. “

C-2 zoning permits a wide range of commercial facilities from bakeries and arcades to hotels, service stations and parking garages.

The report also cites the lack of parking requirements under C-2 zoning. “This is problematic since there are not city public parking lots or parking structures in this part of the downtown area and none are planned,” the staff report says.

As an alternative, the report suggests O-P, planned office, or C-P, planned business district zoning. Both of those zoning designations would give the city more control over development.

John Clark, president of the North Central Neighborhood Association, said his group is aware of the rezoning request but has not yet taken an official position. But he said the association generally opposes such “open” zoning requests.

Some residents of the former dormitory said Riley has told them they will not lose their apartments any time soon.

“It concerned me at first,” said Kent Anderson, who has lived in the former Dearing Hall for three years. He said he is confident that Riley would contact him if his residency were in question.

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