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Literature in a Hurry: Planning Commission needs time for creative solutions

MORRIS -- One of my favorite television shows is NBC’s Parks and Recreation, a comedic look at life in an Indiana small town through the eyes of staff and friends of the local government.

In one of my favorite episodes in the first season, intrepid Parks Department employee Leslie Knope tries, unsuccessfully, to blackmail a member of the city’s zoning board to rezone a piece of property in town.

Leslie wants to make a change to the property to accommodate a park, but her city’s zoning regulations may derail the idea before it even gets off the ground.

As Leslie and her partners discover, zoning is one of those government issues that seems unimportant – right up until the moment it affects you.  Then, the wheels of government bureaucracy can’t move fast enough to solve a problem that, up until that moment, few even knew existed.

Business owners along the north side of Seventh Street in Morris, an area that used to be the main highway coming into town, are justifiably frustrated that a 2011 change in our city’s zoning code has affected what they can do with their property. 

The area in question used to be zoned for highway businesses. But now that it’s no longer a highway, that designation no longer fits. When Morris’ zoning code was dramatically revised in 2011, the Planning Commission and city council voted to zone the entire area along Seventh Street for residential properties.

State law says that all businesses in the area are grandfathered in to continue operating as they were. The rub is that with the new zoning designation those businesses cannot change or expand.

Residents throughout Morris had an opportunity to comment on the zoning map before it was approved in 2011. None of the business owners objecting now made their concerns known at that time. I’m fairly confident that if they had, their concerns would have been addressed in some way. It’s impossible for city officials and volunteers to know every issue without being made aware of problems.

While I understand the business owners’ frustration now, it is not a justifiable excuse to force the Planning Commission or city council to rush through a change to our zoning ordinance that will have consequences long after those businesses change hands.

I hope members of the city council will resist taking the easy way out and instead give members of the Planning Commission time to develop a compromise that both recognizes the needs of local business owners and protects the residential nature of that neighborhood.

Taking time to zone thoughtfully and creatively is in the best interest of all the residents of Morris.