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Rhome City Council rejects plat

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, July 14, 2018
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A contentious meeting Thursday night resulted in the Rhome City Council changing course and voting 5-0 to deny a plat that would have built 64 townhomes on Morris Street.

Thursday night’s decision came roughly one year after the council approved the preliminary plat against the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission on June 23, 2017.

The project, which has been controversial since it was introduced in May 2017, has drawn ire from several Rhome residents. Seven citizens spoke out against the development Thursday night.

One other submitted a form to indicate they were opposed.

“This is not going to be good for any of us,” said Gail Rother, who lives on Morris Street. “It has been wrong from the get-go, in so many different ways. It is not fair for the city council not to take into consideration the people it is going to effect most.”

Residents spoke for more than 30 minutes during the public hearing portion of the meeting. Only one person voiced support for the development.

Fabiola Valdez, who was a member of the P&Z in June 2017, accused council member Sam Eason of trying to persuade her and another P&Z member to approve the project.

At the beginning of her presentation, Valdez asked for Eason to recuse himself when council took action on the development. She cited ordinances under the city’s code of ethics that she claimed Eason violated. Eason voted to reject the project.

“The city does not foster transparency,” Valdez said. “These developers and current council feel that it’s OK to keep nearby residents in the dark. This is not OK.”

Property owners who lived in the area urged the council to consider the traffic in the area and potential strain on water resources and crime.

Melinda Peterman, who lives on West Morris, said she just moved to the area with her children. She told council the project was “disheartening” and she was “shaken up” by it.

Peterman also stated she did not respect council member Charles Pennington or Mayor Michelle Pittman di Credico.

“You guys don’t care what you’re doing to the people around [the community],” Peterman told the council.

Peterman said after the meeting while she was pleased with the council’s decision to reject the plan, she still feels like residents’ concerns fell on deaf ears.

“They don’t hear anything anyone in this town has to say,” Peterman said.

After citizens spoke, City Administrator Joe Ashton gave a short presentation to the council. During his speech, Ashton cited several issues with the plat, primarily centered around ownership of one corner of the lot and tax records for the land.

“If the applicant had provided the required tax receipts and certificates, none of this would be in question,” Ashton told the council. “The receipts would verify the taxes are current, and [we] would not have any reason to question the ownership of the property.”

After Ashton highlighted several potential issues, council moved to closed session for 18 minutes to seek advice from the city attorney.

When they reconvened, several members – including Leeanne Mackowski and Mayor pro tem Elaine Priest – expressed hesitation to move forward with the project.

Eason asked Ashton whether the city would be legally obligated to approve a new plat should the applicant fix the issues and provide proper documentation. Ashton said hypothetically, if a new plat met all the technical requirements, he would recommend staff to approve it.

Mackowski then made a motion to deny the plat, which was greeted with cheers and applause from the crowd.

“I understood there were certain requirements that had to be met for us to able to consider this, and that it is incomplete,” Priest said. “The things we asked for have not been provided.”

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