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The Advocate: Central City Council on 3-2 vote denies zoning request for The Lakes at Woodland Grove

The following was pulled from The Advocate website. Click here for a direct link.

A months-long debate in Central over whether to allow a new high-end development that would not comply with the city's master plan ended in dramatic fashion Tuesday night when a split council denied a necessary zoning change.

At times, the argument over whether to allow construction of the proposed Lakes at Woodland Grove dipped into competing visions for what the city should be. Proponents said the gated neighborhood, with its communal spaces and professional office buildings, would attract desirable residents to Central and spur growth in the city.

Detractors worried about the impacts on drainage and traffic, though developers brought in engineers to refute their claims.

Councilman Jason Ellis called the proposal "awesome" and its developers "good people." Nevertheless, he ultimately came down against The Lakes at Woodland Grove because its design does not comply with Central's master plan, the document in place to guide municipal development.

The land for the project, located across the street from Central High, is zoned for rural agricultural use and contains land in a category designed to control development in flood plains. Ellis warned his colleagues against causing the "erosion" of the master plan by rezoning the land for new development.

Councilwoman Kim Fralick agreed, saying that, though the project has decreased from about 175 houses to approximately 150, the density is still too high for the 173 acres of land on which it would have been built.

Councilmen Wayne Messina and Shane Evans disagreed, saying the master plan should be used as a guide rather than an unbendable authority. Evans compared people who want to enforce the master plan only when it suits them to those who selectively quote the Bible for their own ends.

The councilman pointed to times when the document has not been heeded, and argued for the council to uphold landowners' rights to develop property as they see fit.

Messina warned that if the city did not permit the Lakes at Woodland Grove, the next developers may not offer such tempting amenities, such as the flood mitigation projects and new turning lane across from the high school that were included in the proposal.

City staff said that, at present, the land can only be used for things like farming, low-density housing and — with council approval — a few other types of construction, like school and church buildings.

With the vote seemingly tied at two to a side, the debate and scores of people who came out to watch turned to Councilman John Vance, who mused about the potential merits and problems with the proposal.

"What are we willing to trade, as a city, to get these improvements," he said, adding that the city needs to seek a reasonable compromise before being cut off for running out of time.

Ellis again took the microphone, saying he had been reading legal opinions on how local governments should make land use decisions and arrived at the conclusion that agencies should consistently enforce their master plan.

Vance took up the sentiment, ultimately deciding the city must establish a precedent.

"I struggle with, what do we do next time?" he remarked.

If a developer some time in the future wants the city to bend its rules for a truly undesirable project, how can the council argue against it, Vance wondered.

"I want to develop property in the right way," he said.

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