The zoning change for Menards was approved this week, after over two hours of testimony from neighbors and an attorney and city planning consultant hired by one of the neighbors. Those opposed to the zoning change repeated many of the arguments which they had raised during the initial public hearing before the Planning Commission on July 5. Much of the discussion centered on the fact that a portion of the Menards property is in McConnell Air Force Base’s Accident Potential Zone II and the fear that the Department of Defense will see the large building as encroachment on the base when it is reviewed in the future.
“If you lose McConnell, you lose a big base of how we get new people,” said Jerry Lucas. “Don’t be short-sighted for the fast buck Menards promises.”
Mike MacKay, civil engineer for McConnell who has worked extensively on the effort to prevent encroachment on the base, said the base officially neither opposes nor endorses the zoning change. He said the Menards proposal is fully compatible in the Accident Potential Zone II and the guidelines the Air Force has asked be implemented in that area.
Following the meeting, he provided two definitions used in the effort by McConnell to both avoid being squeezed by its surrounding communities and in setting parameters in areas around the base runways:
• Encroachment – Department of Defense defines encroachment as the “cumulative result of any and all outside influences that inhibit normal military training and testing.” It is not meant to describe any compatible development near a military installation, MacKay said.
• Crash Zone – APZ II is not a crash zone where pilots belly in their stricken aircraft. Those are the Clear Zones located at the ends of the runways and they are called clear zones for a reason. APZ II is the least restrictive accident potential zone which contains only 5 percent (on average) of all military aircraft accidents.
Attorney Bob Kaplan, who was hired to represent the neighbors’ interest, asked the council to send the zoning change request back to the Planning Commission to hear legitimate evidence which was not presented during the July 5 meeting.
Specifically, that evidence was that the floor area ratio which the city uses to allow buildings in the APZ still allows a dense population to be present on the site. That puts large numbers of people at risk in the event an airplane goes down on the building, opponents of the zoning said.
The floor area ratio is the comparison of the open land around the building to the square footage of floor space. Opponents said a developer only has to seek a large open area and they can build a business which has large numbers of people in one confined space.
“This invites significant legal risk,” said Skip Noltensmeyer, who lives near the proposed building and was one who could not speak at the July 5 meeting. “The most important factor of population density was not brought to their attention.”
The council took no action to send the proposal back to the planning commission. A number of the council members said they had personally talked to Noltensmeyer before this week’s meeting and were well aware of his arguments against the change.
Before the meeting, neighbors also submitted a protest petition on the zoning change. The petition was designed to require the council to approve the change by a super majority of members.
There were not enough qualified signatures to require the super majority, according to Charlie Brown, city director of community development. In the end, though, the council determined the zoning change was appropriate and approved the change unanimously, making the super majority a moot point.
“I know when a community comes together like this we are hoping for the best result,” said Chuck Warren, council member. “I think this is one of those times when we will not be able to please as much as we would like to.”
Both Noltensmeyer, who led the initial efforts in opposition to the zoning change and Nelda Cocking, who passed around the final petition, said they do not plan to pursue the issue further.
Cocking said when she approached her neighbors with the petition, only two declined to sign it – one of whom had sold their home and was moving.
“To me that was a pretty strong voice,” she said. “I feel like (the council) had their minds made up and it didn’t matter.”
Others have advised Cocking to move. However, she said years of work on her home, landscaping and pool add up.
“I’ve done all those things here with the intent to stay,” she said.
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