Jerome public hearing turns heated

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Following a heated public hearing, Jerome Township Trustees are unsure how they will move forward with a proposed residential development on McKitrick Road.
“We know we’re going to hear some opposition tonight,” Rebecca Mott, the attorney for the applicant, said during her presentation at Tuesday’s public hearing.
Mott’s expectations were met, as residents in the audience responded to her comments by wagging their fingers, shaking their heads and throwing their arms up in frustration throughout the hearing.
During his public comments, resident Kevin Barney described interactions with the attorney as “sadly, somewhat patronizing.”
Trustee Chairman Joe Craft seemed to agree, at one point reminding Mott during what she called a “rebuttal,” that he was elected to serve Jerome Township residents and “you’re not helping this.”
The applicant requested trustees amend or rezone three parcels, or 24.74 acres, on McKitrick Road east of Mitchell-Dewitt Road from Rural Residential District to Planned Development District. The rezoning will allow for the development of 40 single-family dwellings.
Zoning Inspector Eric Snowden said the Jerome Township Comprehensive Plan calls for a residential conservation district in the area, which he said often takes the form of a Planned Development District.
He said the term conservation is “a bit of a misnomer,” as it is often interpreted as preservation.
However, according to the comprehensive plan, these uses “are characterized by clustering residential uses for the purpose of preserving large areas of open space and/or significant natural features.” They require open space occupy at least 40% of the gross acreage while density must range between 1-2 units per gross acre.
Snowden said the applicant will be required to provide 45% open space on the site. The density of the proposed development would be 1.661 units per acre.
Despite the zoning commission’s recommendation to approve the application, residents were vocal in their opposition.
Those who spoke during the hearing said they took particular issue with the comparatively small buffer along the east side of the development, conservation of natural features and the impact on traffic.
Bob Chapman, who said his home is nearest to the proposed site, said multiple lots “back right up to the property line.” He said only the 25-foot setback separates the east side of the development from other properties.
Mott said neighbors rejected a proposed “no-build easement of trees” that would cover 25 feet on the east boundary of the property. In exchange for the easement, Mott said it was “just common sense” to ask neighbors not to oppose the development.
“We will not give up our right to argue the inequitable design of this development and share our belief this does not belong on McKitrick Road,” Chapman said.
Craft said he found the proposed easement “confusing.” Trustee Megan Sloat agreed, adding that a provision that allowed for utility lines or other infrastructure could result in trees being destroyed regardless of the easement.
Craft said these concerns, along with a deadline within a month for residents to accept the easement, could have made it difficult to come to an agreement with neighbors.
Beyond that, he said he has seen email correspondence from Mott with residents and, “I found it not very nice.”
Along with increasing the eastern buffer, Sloat said she felt “we can do more” in terms of preserving trees on the property.
McKitrick Road resident Susannah Ross spoke about the current wildlife in the area and her concern that many of the natural features will be destroyed.
“The cruelest dichotomy of all is that everyone wants to live there but you build so much and no one wants to live there,” she said.
Other residents worried that the proposed development would have an adverse effect on local traffic.
Mott said a traffic impact study conducted on March 3 indicated no improvements would be warranted as a result of the development.
“To do a study during a pandemic is a joke,” Resident Kelly Transue said, although Mott argued the study was representative of normal traffic patterns.
After hearing residents’ comments, Craft said he would like to consult with legal counsel before voting on the application. Sloat said she would also like more information.
“I don’t know what other information we could give you… This is all the information – this is everything,” Mott responded.
The attorney also said the property owner has a “vested constitutional right to develop the land within the confines of the law.” She said neighbors need to know the zoning of land adjacent to their properties to prepare for potential development.
Trustees unanimously voted to continue the meeting until 7 p.m. Aug 4. Craft also asked Mott that she continue to work with neighboring residents to find an agreement regarding the eastern boundary.
“You said you want to be a good neighbor,” Trustee C.J. Lovejoy added. “Show me that you can be a good neighbor to my residents.”



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