City Council: No on Northwood Zoning Issue; Yes on Historic District Project

Sep 24, 2014

The Poplar Bluff City Council was forced into making a decision at Tuesday night’s council meeting on the issue of rezoning the property at the corner of Northwood Drive and Westmoore Drive. Jared Beaird, owner of the property had requested the rezoning to allow him to use the building as a dental practice. It was zoned residential, and the request was to rezone it as O-1, which would have allowed professional use of the property.
Some on the Council had hoped to table the issue, allowing time for more study and more dialogue with both the property owners of the neighborhood and Beaird.
But John Scott, attorney for property owner Darlene Hutchison, related to the council members that the residents of the neighborhood wanted the issue resolved.
“This is the fifth time I have been here (in the city council chambers) on behalf of my client, a property owner. These people have put a lot of time and money into this, and it has gone on long enough,” said Scott.
Council member Jack Rushin had been in favor of tabling the issue for more study and dialogue, but council member Johnny Brannum commented that in light of the obvious feelings of the neighborhood residents, he could not support the rezoning. Council member Peter Tinsley agreed.
“I don’t think I have ever seen this much resistance to a rezoning,” said Tinsley. “Because of that, I could not vote in favor of it.”
City Manager Heath Kaplan noted his biggest concern with the issue is that the city has not really been following proper procedure in these situations.
“According to the city ordinance, there are certain steps that must be followed, and one of those steps is that the Planning and Zoning Commission is to file a written report on their recommendation within 60 days with the city council,” said Kaplan. He noted that has not been done in this case, nor has it historically been done.
“My job is to provide the Council with guidance, and I have given this to legal counsel for advice, and the advice is that we should be following the provisions of the ordinance,” explained Kaplan.
Council member Betty Absheer said she was also not in favor of tabling the measure. “It’s been workshopped and is on the agenda tonight for a vote if it is not tabled.”
City Planner Dennis Avery noted he had not been aware of the requirement of the written report, but noted he would take care to follow the procedure in the future.
Following the meeting, John Scott told the SEMO Times that he was pleased with the results of the vote. “This was a very long process. It is unfortunate that it couldn’t be worked out to everyone’s interest, but I have to say the process worked as it should.”
In other matters to come before the council, representatives from First Southwest were on hand to present information about their financial advisory services to the council. The company specializes in representing municipalities to help them optimize their finances and to help in municipal building programs. The spokesmen noted that they have worked with new City Manager Heath Kaplan in other municipalites where he has worked in the past, and congratulated the city on making an excellent choice in choosing Kaplan as the new city manager.
Kaplan explained that the purpose of the First Southwest presentation was to inform the council on what financial services can do for a community.
“In the past, Poplar Bluff hasn’t really used financial advisors other than in small, limited ways,” said Kaplan. He noted the use of a financial advisor service, which will in the end be bid if the city should decide on that course of action, could be very helpful to the city.
Another business matter to come before the council was the selection of AON Insurance for the city’s employee health insurance. It was noted that the city had taken bids for the insurance, and had received three proposals, though only two met the criteria for the bid. The proposals went to an employee review panel, which made the selection of AON.
AON is a global professional services firm that advises clients in matters of risk management, insurance, and human resources.
Council member Ed DeGaris expressed disappointment that the insurance bid was going to a company outside of Poplar Bluff. For the past ten years, the city’s health insurance had been managed by MHJ Insurance. MHJ (Morse Harwell Jiles) is an independent insurance agency based in Poplar Bluff.
Kaplan thanked MHJ for its service of the past ten years.
It was noted that the employee panel had chosen AON for the insurance because it was felt the company could save the city money, in light of the $3 million deficit of the city’s current health plan.
Representatives from First Community Insurance Group of Poplar Bluff had also submitted a bid, and questioned why their group was not chosen. They felt they could save the city about $17,000 in brokerage fees, and they noted AON does not have a local agency.
Councilman Rushin noted that the selection was made by the employee committee, and Kaplan noted that the company would have the opportunity to bid on other forms of city insurance, such as casualty and property and Workman’s Compensation.
When the measure came to a vote it passed 5-2, though council members Absheer and DeGaris cast no votes.
Kaplan also Tuesday night introduced Poplar Bluff’s new Grants Coordinator to the Council and to the public. Raynisha Hudnell holds a master’s degree in business administration and came to Poplar Bluff from Tyler, Texas.
Also at the meeting City Clerk Pam Kearbey was recognized for attaining 100 certificate hours in training. Crystal Bishop, City Clerk of Dexter, was on hand to present the certificate.
In another matter, the Council reversed it’s previous decision on the Kinzer and Cynthia Street Historic District Project.
At the council’s previous meeting, an ordinance to accept a bid for consulting services for the district was rejected. Two bids had been received for the project, and a bid of $21,250 had been chosen. But resident Jim Chrisman had questioned the wisdom of the money being spent on the project, even though it was going to be paired with federal money through a grant program. When that measure came to a vote, it was defeated with no votes from Mayor Angela Pearson, and council members Rushin, Brannum and Johnson.
But that vote was reversed Tuesday night after the council had apparently given it more thought, and decided the historic preservation of the homes should be a community goal.
“We are preserving our heritage,” said Rushin. “How can you get a better investment than that?”
When the measure was re-introduced at the voting session, it passed.
Also along the lines of community betterment, the council voted to use STP (Surface Transportation Program) Funds to pave two gravel streets within the city, 11th Street and Thomas Street. Kaplan noted that he had also included the Fair Street Bridge project in the plan.
In final notes, the council mentioned that recent tours of the City Hall building had revealed many structure problems. Brannum noted a continuing problem of leaks, resulting in health and safety issues.
Mayor Pearson agreed, saying, “This building has deterioriated, and no doubt will be very costly to repair,” adding that a long term solution is needed.
City Manager Kaplan commented that he has received many calls and mail about the Black River Coliseum. He reiterated that he has no intention of closing the facility, but is merely concerned about its financial situation.