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Controversial zoning issue tabled by board

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

As they were walking toward the door of the Platte County Administration Building in Platte City to attend a hearing on their zoning request Tuesday night, three representatives of the Harvest Church heard this yell come from a man driving a pickup truck down Third Street: "Take your building somewhere else!"

The church representatives, which included Pastor Steve Houpe, his wife and church volunteer Dudley Chase, did not respond to the comment. Later in the evening, as it was made clear the Platte County Planning Commission would be tabling their request on a zoning change that would allow a church retreat/day camp on property just east of Platte City along HH Highway, church officials seemed a bit frustrated.

"For seven months we have worked on this project. If there are concerns, we want to address them," Chase said during the hearing.

The church is asking to rezone 70 acres of land it owns about a mile east of I-29. The property is on the south side of Hwy. HH. It wants rezoning from residential multiple dwelling (RMD) to agricultural, and at the same time is seeking a special use permit to operate the church retreat/day camp.

Among the things the church is proposing to put in place on the property are a soccer field/football field, baseball field, swimming pool, a nine hole par 3 golf course, a small chapel/worship area and cabins for camp attendees.

Nearby landowners have expressed concerns about the proposal to the county's planning staff and to the church itself at a neighborhood meeting the church hosted last week. One landowner, Mark Wittmeyer, has retained legal counsel. His attorney, Michelle Clark of Bryan Cave LLP, requested the issue be tabled until the church has a traffic study completed. She said the traffic study would be necessary for the zoning board to make an informed decision on the church's request.

The study will help determine what effect the proposed development would have on nearby property owners, and would also help MoDOT better determine where access roads should be. Clark said the study should also note the impact the development would have on Hwy. 92, which is south of the property, as well as on Hwy. HH.

Also, she said in her opinion the request is a spot zoning issue. Such a change has to have a public benefit and should not be a detriment to surrounding landowners, she said.

David Anderson, architect for the church, mildly argued against the tabling of the matter.

"If we proceed with this development we will be required to do a traffic study," he said. "The issue of a traffic study was not brought up at our neighborhood meeting."

David Picco, member of the zoning board, said he feels the traffic study is necessary before approval is given.

"With the terrain the way it is out there, the traffic study is very necessary," Picco said.

Michael Gunn, legal counsel for the zoning board, agreed.

"Because of the special use, it would be a good idea to request a traffic study prior to approval," Gunn remarked.

Aaron Schmidt, planning and zoning director for the county, said he believes tabling the issue until the March 11 meeting would allow time for the study to be done.

Church officials wanted to know if there were any other concerns from neighbors.

"We will continue to work toward our goal of appeasing the neighbors," Anderson said. "If the traffic study is the only issue, that's certainly something that is easily addressed.

Anderson remarked that the church agreed to leave a right of way for a four-lane road about 100 ft. in width and has agreed to not put any structures within 100 feet of the road.

Clark said she only represents Wittmeyer and could not speak for other landowners. She said the traffic study is not her only concern, only that it is the concern upon which she requested the issue be tabled. She declined to elaborate on the other concerns.

Schmidt said planning staff recommended tabling the matter until the next monthly meeting.

"There are some legal issues that could get worked out," he said.

Schmidt's staff had earlier indicated it will recommend approval of the request, with stipulations to include the site not be used for a halfway house, that stays in the cabins be limited to one or two overnight stays, and that the church provide a traffic study to be approved by the county and by MoDOT.

"You are well aware of our recommendation, but we will refrain from making that formal recommendation until a later time," Schmidt told board members.

After discussion, the board unanimously voted to table the matter until its March 11 meeting.

The church's proposal was also a topic of discussion for the Platte City Board of Aldermen at its meeting Tuesday night, as the property sits in an area marked for future annexation by the city.

City Administrator Keith Moody had prepared a resolution stating the city's opposing to the church's rezoning, but the aldermen tabled any action on that resolution.

"I would like to see if the board would entertain putting this on the shelf until another meeting. It would allow us the opportunity to see what the county is going to do. They are the ones that have the right to rezone the property," Mayor Dave Brooks said.

Moody indicated he believes the city should protest the rezoning because a special use permit would allow the church to avoid the platting process, and thereby avoid constructing the customary public improvements. That would shift a financial burden to the citizens of Platte City and Platte County, Moody said.

Angela Moorehead, Harvest Church representative, said the church has agreed not to build anything on the right of way.

Platte City's aldermen then tabled any action on the resolution protesting the rezoning until its Feb. 25 meeting.