Mayor: City's long term goals reflected in decision to reject rezoning


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Mount Pleasant Mayor Kathy Ling smiles during a Mount Pleasant City Commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 10 in Mount Pleasant City Hall.

TO THE EDITOR:

I read with interest Monday’s editorial concerning the decision to turn down a request to rezone the former SBX building from its current C-1 (commercial) zone to M-2 (multiple family). While I disagree with the editorial’s position that it would have been better if we had approved the request, I do agree with some of the key points made in the editorial.

I completely agree the decision does not in any way assure Kaya Coffee House will be able to continue operating in its current location. That is a decision that will be made by the private parties involved in the current lease agreement. If the city commission had acted based on a desire to “save” Kaya, that action would have been short-sighted.

Many of the residents who spoke during the meeting acknowledged the issue was not about Kaya itself, but about the type of development that would be most appropriate for that area in the future.

I also agree the current building detracts from the appearance of the surrounding area and needs to be redeveloped in a way that will enhance both the university and the nearby neighborhood.

However, I disagree that the proposed rezoning would be a positive step that would fulfill “the city’s long term goal of keeping as many students as possible living south of High Street and out of the historic homes near downtown.”

A decision to rezone property to M-2 is not about who will live in an area. City zoning ordinances can’t tell people where to live. What they do determine is what type of housing will be allowed in any given area.

The sole purpose of the M-2 designation is to allow what is essentially higher-density dorm style housing that typically houses four or more unrelated occupants in a single housing unit. One goal in the current Master Plan is to discourage expanding that type of housing option.

That goal reflects the fact that there are already many options for those seeking that type of housing both in the city itself and in the surrounding area. Many new residents, including students, have said they would prefer to have other housing options including loft style and one and two bedroom apartments, townhouses and affordable homes. Those options continue to be in short supply.

It is true the city would like to reduce the number of non-conforming rentals in the area north of High Street because it is zoned single family residential which does not allow higher-density rentals. The city has allowed some increased density south of High Street in the portion already zoned M-2 in order to encourage better quality housing. However, there is no goal to rezone other portions of that area to M-2.

I do appreciate the fact that your editorial acknowledges those of us who turned down the zoning request because we were concerned about the timing in light of the proposed new form-based zoning ordinance that will be presented to the city for consideration by the end of the year. It could change zoning designations throughout the city.

This form based code represents a different approach to zoning and could provide potentially exciting options for the specific area involved in this rezoning request. If this request had been approved, it could result in a higher-density housing unit that would be grandfathered in for many decades and prevent the kind of mix use development that could provide the type of housing options that are currently in short supply in that area.

In turning down the rezoning request, the commission did not focus on any one business or any particular developer. Rather, we were trying to keep options open that might make it possible for the neighborhoods between the university and downtown to become viable and appealing to all residents.

It is our hope that the long term benefit will be to the entire community and to future generations who will choose to come to Mount Pleasant. It has become the kind of exciting and desirable place people want to be as a student at CMU or as a permanent resident.

As you say in your editorial, “time will tell” whether it was the right decision.

KATHY LING

Mount Pleasant Mayor

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