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Gayle Townsend on Thursday opposed a zoning change for a food pantry in the Oak Grove neighborhood. She said she was speaking as a private citizen, not as a commissioner. (Staff photo)
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Dr. Sharon Lee withdrew her request for a zoning change for a food pantry near 5th and Greeley on Thursday night at the Unified Government Commission meeting, after opposition from some of the neighbors including Gayle Townsend. (Staff photo)
Around two decades ago Strawberry Hill residents including Carol Marinovich successfully blocked a food kitchen at St. Mary’s Church at 5th and Ann. It eventually moved to a nearby nonresidential neighborhood.
Something similar happened Thursday night at the Unified Government Commission meeting. Oak Grove neighborhood residents, including UG Commissioner Gayle Townsend, blocked a zoning change for a food pantry near 5th and Greeley. It is in a residential area near the Faith Lutheran Church.
Dr. Sharon Lee proposed a permanent zoning change for a food pantry, which is near her satellite medical clinic, which had already been operating for years. The food pantry was located in a former residence, in a residential neighborhood in the northeast area. Dr. Lee withdrew her zoning change petition Thursday, saying that she was told the other commissioners would not vote against Commissioner Townsend’s wishes.
In a statement to the UG Commission, Dr. Lee said that in the years her clinic had operated there, access to healthy foods had been identified by area residents as one of their greatest needs. Her organization purchased an empty house nearby and intended to use it for a food pantry. She said she had significant community support for the project.
The “Not in My Backyard” (NIMBY) issue drew several nearby residents to a public hearing to talk about their concerns about a permanent change of zoning to a house in a residential area that would have been changed to business district zoning.
“This is a great idea, wrong location,” Townsend told the commission, saying she was speaking as a private citizen.
Several other people, including representatives of the Oak Grove neighborhood group, spoke against the zoning change. There was some support expressed for a grocery store in the area, but not the food pantry. Chester Owens, former council member, sent in a letter of opposition.
UG planning officials tried to work out a compromise, where a special use permit could be issued instead of a permanent zoning change, but the compromise fell through, according to Rob Richardson, planning director.
Commissioner Tarence Maddox said he drove through the food pantry area recently and saw there was only one road in, with a back alley. He said that could mean constant traffic and congestion around residential homes. He added he saw a note posted on the door that blamed Commissioner Townsend and another person for the closure of the facility. The real question, Maddox said, was there was a commissioner whose integrity was questioned.
Mayor Mark Holland said he had been supportive of a two-year special use permit for the facility.
“We very seldom do spot zoning in these cases,” he said.
He suggested that others should talk to the planning and zoning department about zoning before investing time and money in property.