A year after Wauseon City Council denied his first request, local developer Tim Dennis is again seeking a zoning change on just over 5 1/2 acres of land abutting the city’s Haven Heights subdivision.
His request has reignited a clash with the subdivision’s residents, who vehemently object to Dennis’ continued plans to build rental properties at the west end of the adjacent site. They say their concerns about neglectful tenants and declining property values have resurfaced.
Dennis said he is merely trying to fulfill a need in the city for affordable, maintained housing.
On Wednesday, the two sides squared off during a public hearing in City Council chambers regarding the proposed zoning change from R-2 to R-3 status. The change would permit Dennis to build 20 zero lot line houses and two similar stand-alone houses on 5.65 acres, part of eight acres he originally purchased in 2003.
The land abuts the west end of Haven Heights, more familiarly known as the Pat West subdivision.
As the hearing began Councilor Rick Frey recused himself from further involvement, a choice given to council members with possible conflicts of interest in the matter.
The council will render a final decision on the zoning request at its Oct. 19 meeting. That decision could be tempered by the city Planning Commission’s unanimous vote in August to not recommend the change from R-2 to R-3.
Mayor Kathy Huner, a commission member, said she voted against the recommendation because a comprehensive plan drafted for Wauseon requires a different zoning opportunity for Dennis’ project. She said the project is categorized under the plan’s language as high density, not medium density, as Dennis suggests.
Huner said her vote also reflects her concern for an unresolved flooding problem in the site area caused by storm runoff from both inside and outside the city.
“This is an issue we need to get fixed,” she said.
Dennis’ R-3 request comes a year after the council denied his 2014 appeal for a zoning change at the site from R-2 to planned unit development (PUD). Dennis had originally intended to construct a $3 million, 37-unit rental development there to fill what he described as a need for additional housing in Wauseon.
The Planning Commission had recommended the PUD request be approved, but Dennis was facing the considerable wrath of unsupportive Haven Heights residents. During a heated campaign waged last summer against the PUD, they argued it would attract tenants unmotivated to keep up the homes, leading to an eventual decline and lowered area property values. They also predicted increased and congested traffic on West Drive, the subdivision’s main artery, which would provide access to the development.
After consideration, the city council rejected the commission’s recommendation and denied the PUD. Dennis subsequently scrapped the development plans.
R-3 status would accommodate his current plan to build zero lot line homes on the site similar to those he constructed for Phase 1 of Clermont Villas, his residential development on Glenwood Avenue. A zero lot line allows maximum usage of space by allowing a home’s boundary wall to reach the property line.
Dennis’ plan calls for the construction of 10 residential units, each filling two adjacent lots. Each unit would be divided into two single-family dwellings separated by a firewall and the property line, each with an attached garage and a driveway, and individually rented for $899 per month.
Two stand-alone houses would also be built, for a total of 22 units. Dennis said the development will have streets, sidewalks, and curbs like those in a subdivision. He said adequate water and sanitary systems and on-site storm water detention will be available.
The smaller lots created under R-3 zoning will provide more housing and save on construction costs, he added.
“We’re trying to come up with something that is affordable for folks to rent,” he said. “We’re going from one form of residential zoning to another. Not a radical change.”
Dennis said the assertion the development is high density is incorrect. He said the most recent update of the comprehensive plan from 2005 uses the term “high density” without defining it, and suggests through its color coding that R-2 and R-3 zoning are medium density.
And despite his opponents’ insistence to the contrary, the original 8.2 acres he purchased for $75,000 also would have held 22 residential units, Dennis said. About two and a half of those acres were sold for $59,000 in 2004 to two neighbors wanting to retain backyards.
The developer explained that an R-2 residential project he developed for the site lost viability following the country’s economic downslide, and remains cost prohibitive. He said the zero lot line condition in an R-3 zone allows for more affordable housing.
Lucy Massau, 30-year resident of Haven Heights, said at the hearing it was wholly Dennis’ choice to purchase R-2 land, then decide not to pursue the city-approved project.
“Frankly, I find having to come and defend our neighborhood again and again from this type of situation aggravating and unfair,” she said. “The homeowners in the Pat West subdivision should not have to pay for someone else’s poor business decision.”
Another of the subdivision’s residents, Susan Short gave a lengthy presentation that touched on facts and statistics and discussions of the comprehensive plan and high and low density. Short said she worked hard for home ownership to escape the close proximity of neighbors, the noise, and the traffic she experienced as a renter.
Zoning exists for reasons that include providing orderly development, avoiding conflict, and to help protect and maintain property values, she said. Permitting a zoning change, “is really plopping a rental development in the midst of single-family, owner-occupied housing…People depend on zoning when they make the decision where they want to live, where they want to build.”
Every advantage of Dennis’ development would remain if he built it in an area already zoned for R-3, Short said. But building it next to Haven Heights “would definitely change our enjoyment of life.”
She warned council members, “If you set this as a precedent, every piece of R-2 land in Wauseon is open to be changed.”
West Drive resident Marcia Hull shared photos of housing units similar to those planned for the development. She said they’ll make the development resemble a manufactured housing park rather than a subdivision.
“You can see that it doesn’t fit. It is not what is needed at the back of our subdivision,” she said.
Hull said Haven Heights residents chose to live there “because it’s a quiet, owner-occupied area. If we wanted to live in a rental community we would have chose to rent a home.”
She questioned the need for additional housing in Wauseon, citing 2010 census data indicating an increase in city rental vacancies from 5.5 to 9.3 percent, at that time the largest percentage in Fulton County.
Paul Soltis said the space provided between neighbors adds to the subdivision’s attractiveness.
“(Dennis is) going for the opposite. He’s actually turning against it, and doing the opposite of what our our neighborhood was developed for,” Soltis said.
He compared Dennis to a cold, saying, “He doesn’t go away…I’ve got a lot of respect for Tim the person, but I’m sick of Tim the businessman. All he’s doing is trying to cut corners at the expense of everybody.”
Addressing the city council, Soltis said, “Unfortunately, you people on Council need to put your foot down. If not, he’s going to continue to do this…We’re going to be fighting this again and again and again.
During a rambling diatribe that covered various aspects of Dennis’ plan and homeowners’ rights, Soltis said Haven Heights residents can’t afford Dennis’ self-described efforts to provide affordable housing. “We can’t afford it as a neighborhood. And that’s what comes into play here. It’s our needs, this time.”
The comprehensive plan is supposed to protect the subdivision residents against constant changes in Dennis’ plans, he said.
“Who’s looking at our best interests?” Soltis asked. “This is Tim trying to make money. If Tim makes money, our property values go down. We lose money. Our neighborhood sacrifices. The city sacrifices. We’re not going to stay for this, if that’s the way the city’s going to go.”
Soltis added, “He can build R-2, and he will if he’s forced to.”
Dennis, who owns over 300 residential units in Wauseon, said last Thursday his development would create up to two dozen construction jobs that would last for a year.
He said Haven Heights residents had the same fear of declining property values when nearby Oldfield Village was built, and they proved unfounded. After conducting a meticulous search through Fulton County auditor records, he found “no evidence to support the contention that Oldfield Village has had an effect upon the property values at the Haven Heights subdivision.”
Dennis said his rental properties usually remain filled, with new tenants often signing onto units before the departing tenants have left. He said his R-3 development is an effort to supply a demand which also benefits the city.
“It’s an opportunity for 22 families for a long, long time to bring their paychecks home and spend them here,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.