February 13, 2012 by wcobserver
WEST FORK – The Planning Commission, on Feb. 1, denied a request by Mike Landa to rezone one of his West Fork properties. Landa was asking for a commercial spot-zoning for his property, 997 McKnight Ave., which is within a residential zone in the south part of town. The rezoning of this area is an issue that’s been brought up for before — for at least a decade.
Landa, the Planning Commission chair, made his case during the commission’s regular meeting, with assistance from his Benton- ville lawyer, Darrell Gibby. The specific issue surrounding the Planning Commission chair, who abstained from participating with the commission on this issue, has been a point of contention for the past few months. Meanwhile, the debate about rezoning land in West Fork’s southern-most region is nothing new for the city.
“As commission chair on the other side of the table, I was disappointed and embarrassed with some irrelevant questions and points not related to the application,” said Landa in a letter to the Commission the day after the decision. “In my opinion, the application process was tainted …”
Landa and his wife Kim purchased their house and two and half acres from Mayor Francis and Steve Hime in 2007. Landa has used his residence for a corporate office and outside storage for material related to his business. He has several business registered to his name, at least two have West Fork ad
dresses, Landa Mobile Systems lists 997 McKnight Ave. as headquarters and Landa and Associates, Inc, lists PO Box 1030 West Fork. Some of Mr. Landa’s enterprises involve manufacturing, and marketing signal towers.
In Octoberof 2011, Landa obtained a business license for a corporate office at his residence. Two months later, he was issued two more — one for a swimming lesson business and one for a playground. Operating a corporate office in a residential zone requires a conditional use permit, for which he never applied. The signal tower components stored on the property have since been removed but dozens of spools in industrial cable remain.
In recent months, the business activity at his residence prompted notice by neighbors, who were concerned with tractor/trailer truck traffic and outside storage of material. Landa also owns a helicopter and is occasionally seen practicing approach and landing in his front yard. Landa has repeatedly said in public that he plans to use his helicopter to assist the Search and Rescue teams. Officials with the Washington County Department of Emergency Management, which oversees the Search & Rescue team confirmed that Landa did volunteer his helicopter services. However, the officials recently told the Ob- server that they declined the offer from a private citizen, noting that they already have assistance available from the National Guard.
The long-brewing rezoning issue has its roots in the roughly 25-acre, agricultural- zoned property that abuts the residential zone on which Landa’s property sits.
In 1999, the then-owner of the property, Casey Shepherd, applied for a similar rezoning (Industrial) as Landa. He was denied, three times, before selling the land to Allied Enterprise, a subsidiary of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad, five months later. The railroad, has shown demonstrated interest in constructing a waste-management station as well as warehousing.
Objections raised by Planning Commission members to Landa’s proposed rezoning reflected concerns that the rezoning area of and surrounding the railroad property could have a domino effect, turning the land into a large-scale industrial and/or commercial zone. Even Hime, who owns adjacent property to Landa said she would seek to rezone her
property should Landa’s request be approved. Baker, too, who offered his unwavering sup- port of the rezoning, owns 35-acres near the proposed rezoning area.
Commission Member Clay Newcomb noted that if the rezoning were approved, it would allow almost any type of business, like a junk car lot, to dirty up the “beautiful section of road.” The one citizen objection to the rezoning came from Landa’s neighbor, Jim Caylor, of 1015 McKnight Ave. He said he had “No objections to doing business [in the residential zone]” but “wants peace and quite, not noise from commercial property.” He cited Landa’s collection of used signal towers, 40-ft trucks unloading on the street, as well as the helicopter.
In responding to issues of commercial use on the residential zone, Gibby, Landa’s law- yer, pointed out what he said were at least six business already operating under non-compliance in that area. He cited several examples, among them a classic car shop (which is outside the city limits), France Hime’s log-home business, Bearbitten (which has been out of business since 2007), a sign advertising construction (though apparently not on the site), firewood sales (which are permitted by ordinance) and a large cattle fence.
Asked what he would do should the rezoning be approved, Landa said he wants to continue the businesses for which he currently holds licenses.
Commission member Robyn Wilson suggested a “short-term solution,” a Conditional Use Permit for the current businesses. While Gibby appeared to support the measure, however, Landa said he was “tired of red tape,” that the process has already “cost me thousands” and asked “what about the other people” who wish to operate a business out of thier home. Gibby said the denial of rezoning “stops growth” and, in fact, will “send mes- sage of no growth.”
Despite support from long-time resident Doyle Baker, who said a “person who owns property has a right if they do it right,” along with Commissioners Shrylie Stout and Larry Vail, the rest of the commission — Wilson, Staat, Newcomb — voted to deny Landa’s rezoning application.
“This B.S. is way to [sic] much expense, stress and crap a citizen has to go through for [a] home office occupation, small commercial enterprise,” said Landa in the letter sent to the Commission.
The issue of a Conditional Use Permit for Landa’s current businesses has been tabled until the planning commission meets on Feb. 16. In other business, the Commission unanimously approved the rezoning of 285 McKnight Ave. from residential to commercial. The property was sold by Landa to City Council Member Charlie Rossetti, according to Landa.