For fear of future complications and with the encouragement of a letter and comments from residents in the neighborhood, the El Dorado City Planning Commission voted 4-1 to recommend denial of the request by Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital to rezone the 1.1 acre tract on the SW corner of First Avenue and N. Topeka Street from a residential lot to a commercial lot to the City Commission. The City will review the Planning Commission’s recommendation at its second meeting in July.
Angela Lawrence, who lives on Emporia Street, put together an initiative within the neighborhood in close proximity to SBA by gathering about two dozen signatures from residents who opposed the rezoning request. She also penned the letter presented to the Planning Commission stating several areas of concern.
“Doing this, I realized how much more I care about that neighborhood than I thought,” Lawrence said.
Alan Patterson, a representative from SBA, spoke on the plans for that lot should the rezoning request ever get approved.
“We are out of room to transfer those people from 620 W. Central to the larger facility, the hospital,” Patterson said. “….We are asking for a rezoning of that parking lot that we may put up a building to house the two departments that sit out there on W. Central.”
He said the building would be a single-height structure, 50-by-80 feet in dimension, that would sit on the corner of the west side of that lot. With that, though, the Planning Commissioners were concerned about the parking. They feel the lots are filled pretty consistently at high-traffic times and days, and taking away parking with the new building would exacerbate that problem. Patterson suggested that more parking could get redirected elsewhere if that became an issue.
The Commission proposed the idea of expanding to the east side of the SBA property instead, which Patterson said the hospital would be open to doing.
“That might be what we have to do,” Patterson said.
The biggest problem is, if the rezoning were allowed, the list of potential structures SBA could consider building would increase drastically.
“We have to vote on a permit based on what is potentially available in all facets, not just any one structure that gets presented,” Commissioner Dan Bullock said.
Bullock re-emphasized that there is a list of approved structures within the classification, and if the rezoning was approved, anything would be fair game at that point. Encroaching into a residential area is what he said the true decision at hand boils down to.
“We’ve denied, in the past, allowing businesses to grow into neighborhoods along Central,” Bullock said.
And that’s where a lot of the residences’ concerns came in. Lawrence explained in the letter to the Planning Commission that there would be several consequences. She said she was concerned that the property values in the neighborhood would take a hit, which she said would be particularly difficult to swallow for such an historic area, with homes that have had renovations and upkeep for years.
“We have put so much time and money and equity and blood and sweat into these homes,” Lawrence said.
She mentioned that the potential views and additional noise from an expansion, including at night, would be problematic. She also said that the potential to add an access point off the street would bring a lot more traffic into that neighborhood.
Another resident present at the meeting was Norma Johnson. She said she and her husband placed their home on Central on the national registry of historic locations. Their Colonial Revival-style home was built in 1936.
“Many older homes in our neighborhood have been demolished,” Johnson said. “…These older homes give so much history to our area.”
An elderly couple, Gail and Edward Ellet, have lived on Emporia for 42 years. They said they’d like to keep the same neighborhood atmosphere for future generations.
“We thoroughly enjoyed living on North Emporia and would like to see it continue as the block it has been for as long as possible,” Edward said. “…We’d prefer not to have any new commercial properties on our block,” Edward said.
At the end of the public-hearing portion of the meeting, Patterson spoke one more time and gave reassurance that SBA was not in the business of upsetting residents of the community or causing any problems. The hospital was looking into all possibilities with its property. He also said the hospital would be willing to design a master plan and be transparent about what SBA’s future plans were.