South Monroe Street Development Catches Snag as Rezoning Request Fails

By Tran Longmoore,

A plan to build a 44-unit condominium community on four acres on South Monroe Street ran into a snag at the Saline City Council meeting Monday.

With Councilor Heidi McCelland absent, city council deadlocked on a request to rezone a .2-acre parcel Damian Farrell wants to use for the project. Farrell has a deal to buy the property from New Life Tabernacle Church. He told council he would use the extra land to move the barn, which he said would be a signature of the development, to a more central location within the development. He said the barn would also be used as a clubhouse and the land would allow him to have a better retention scheme.

While the project still enjoys the backing of Mayor Brian Marl, who wants to see more housing for prospective residents and more property tax revenue, it’s clear some on council view the project less favorably. The city agreed to reduce its asking price for the land, pay to move utility wires, and then watched property become an eyesore as the project stalled while the developer asked for more and more units. His original plan for the property was for seven duplexes. The city later rezoned the property R3A to accommodate Farrell’s request for 30 units.

Monday night, Marl was joined by Councilors Jack Ceo and Linda TerHaar as supporters of the rezoning request. Councilors Janet Dillon, Christen Mitchell and Dean Girbach voted nay.

Councilor Girbach, who voted for the rezoning at planning commission only a week ago, had a different view while wearing his city council hat Monday. Girbach said council needs to be careful when granting a rezoning with a specific expectation in mind.

“The zoning stays with the land. Just like we granted a rezoning thinking this was going to be 30 units,” Girbach said. “I’m concerned by what happens if we rezone this property and the project fails. Does the property go back to the church? Would the church have the ability to use the new zoning to build something behind their church?”

There appeared to be several answers to Girbach’s question. Farrell and City Superintendent Gary Roubal indicated the property would become part of the main parcel and would go back to the city should the development not go through for some reason. But that answer didn’t align with City Manager’s Todd Campbell’s statement. Campbell said that if the property were rezoned and then the Farrell property to go back to the city, the city would likely have to negotiate for the extra parcel.

Marl said the city attorney would answer the question prior to the Aug. 6 meeting, when he expects city council will reconsider the rezoning request.

“I’m very eager to move forward on this development,” Marl said.

Marl’s support for the project might be why he wasn’t keen on taking up the subsequent motion to approve the conceptual design of Farrell’s project. It was far from clear that a majority of councilors in attendance would approve the concept. Marl recommended council take up the matter at a future meeting. Dillon asked why council shouldn’t take up the matter, suggesting the 0.2-acre parcel wouldn’t drastically change the concept. Answering a question from Marl, Farrell seemed to concur with Dillon’s position, saying the spacing of the buildings couldn’t change much if the rezoning were disallowed.

Marl then asked Farrell if he was comfortable with city council considering conceptual approval.

“Are you comfortable with us entertaining a motion to approve the redesign since we did not approve the rezoning?” Marl asked. “Or would you prefer us to wait?”

Dillon interjected.

“I don’t think it’s Mr. Farrell’s decision,” Dillon said.

Marl defended his question.

“I’m just asking his opinion. It’s not Mr. Farrell’s decision but I have the right to ask him. Excuse me,” Marl said, with some snap in his voice.

Farrell said it was difficult to answer.

Marl got the issue back on track by suggesting that it appeared council would support the rezoning once legal counsel clarified issues. He said he didn’t want to put the cart before the horse and called for a motion from the table. Councilor Girbach moved to postpone until the Aug. 6 meeting. Councillor Ceo seconded. All but Dillon voted in favor of the motion.

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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