By ASHLEY AMASON
Planning Director Greg Scoville introduced the item of debate which had the DeFuniak Springs Community Center packed for the City Council meeting July 25. The second reading and public hearing of the ordinance for Joel and Paula Glenn’s request to rezone Clary Glenn Funeral Home on Park Ave. from an R-1 single family residential area to a C-1 commercial district. Scoville said the updates made to the funeral home—offices, church, and 80 car parking lot—were non-compliant in an R-1 district. However, rezoning to a C-1 district could permit the establishment of bars, taverns, service stations, bus terminals, crematoriums, among other use exceptions, which would “adversely and negatively” affect the surrounding residential area. He referenced city policy 1.1.4 which supports the protection of neighborhoods and announced the planning board’s recommendation to deny the request for rezoning.
City Attorney Clay Adkinson announced Joel Glenn would be permitted to speak first, along with his representative, followed by Bill and Nadine Bacon’s attorney. Everyone who signed in to speak would have five minutes each. Subsequently, public comments for and against the rezoning request lasted more than two hours.
Glenn told the Council, “The property should have been zoned C-1 to begin with,” and referenced a former grocery store and florist in the neighborhood many decades ago, but added approving rezoning would not welcome any other commercial businesses to the area. “It’s the duty of the Council tonight to make a decision to change [the zoning] to C-1 to eliminate non-compliant use…I think C-1 zoning is certainly what we need to be…[The Council should] make a motion, and take a stand…”
Walter Humphreys, a realty appraiser from Fort Walton Beach, spoke on behalf of Glenn’s request stating the only drop in property values would be caused by having a nonconforming use in the case of Clary Glenn Funeral Home. “A crematorium doesn’t make any difference to property values in that neighborhood” he said. Glenn reiterated, “Property values will not be affected, nor will the neighborhood.”
Scoville announced Glenn’s attorney, Wes Reeder, submitted a letter to the Council on behalf of the rezoning request.
Gary Vorbeck, attorney for the Bacons, said he “respectfully disagree[d]” with Humphrey’s conclusion. “Common sense says this does affect value.” Vorbeck claimed permitting rezoning would be inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan adopted in 2010, referencing policies which discourage urban sprawl and incompatible land uses. “You have to obey it…this application does not adhere to your comprehensive plan,” Vorbeck said.
William Bacon told the Council, “I want to appeal to your better angels…the city land use plan is an economic engine…commit to the future land use plan.” Bacon referenced using local labor, materials, and craftsmen to restore his home in the historic district and pumping $500,000 into the local economy. His opposition to rezoning was not a personal issue with Glenn, he said, but added “neither I nor Nadine would have risked all of this if we’d known we’d be discussing a C-1 zoning change here tonight.”
Terry Dawkins said, “I moved here…to settle in historic Defuniak Springs…If this is allowed to go through, you might as well take [historic] off the water tower…Once you let Pandora out of this box, you’ll never get her back in.”
Lisa Haley asked the Council to deny the rezoning request, noting the only reason to rezone the business was to allow for a crematorium. “It’s not wanted,” she said. “I understand you have to represent both groups…[but] our future generations, you have to be their voices tonight.”
Jeanine Cole said, “For many years, I would drive through Defuniak Springs and wish I could live in the historic district. My dream came true 10 years ago… …I felt secure because of the seemingly strict zoning [laws]…spot zoning is particularly damaging to adjacent properties.”
Phillip Martin referenced a national magazine in which Defuniak Springs was listed as one of the top 10 places to retire and said, “I have to thank Mr. Glenn because he’s brought us together…in solidarity against rezoning and its intent. We’ve been living there longer than Mr. Glenn’s been born.”
Sherri Campbell said, “I sure do not approve of [rezoning], I’m sorry.”
Brenda Ray said, “I am comfortable…knowing preservation rather than eradication is [Clary-Glenn’s] intent.”
Lewis Caldwell said, “If this change takes place, a lot of people said they we’re going to move…we love the area right now…please let this stay as a residential area…Once this change takes place, we open up a can of worms.”
Frank Cosson was the first resident to speak in favor of rezoning, and said he formerly moved from DeFuniak Springs so he and his children could find jobs. “Why do people want to keep everything out?” he asked. “Put a sign out there: people welcome, but don’t you bring your business…If you don’t make it for the future and young people, close DeFuniak up.” Cosson received thunderous applause.
Dennis Ray countered, “We have something we should not take for granted…it only takes one [change] at a time to totally destroy a town.”
John Parson said he moved to DeFuniak Springs from south Walton because it had everything he was looking for in a hometown. “The city’s [comprehensive] plan does a lot of things for us…previous city councils managed to protect [our] quality of life…we should look at what we have and put things in their proper place.”
Ben Irvin said he came before the Council two years ago to request it not grant a use exception for a daycare at a church in the historic district. The request was granted, however, and Irvin played an ear-shattering recording of squealing children that filled the meeting room. Mayor Harold Carpenter interjected, “I think we got your point.” Irvin said the noise is so unbearable he cannot open his doors or windows and rarely enjoys quiet time. “It’s time to stop variances. It’s time to stop changing zoning,” he said.
Thelma Camaro said, “I can see how rezoning a small piece of property can make changes in the city…I’m for rezoning.”
Floyd Lathinghouse said he found people’s attitudes most disturbing, noting “people I considered my friends [have turned] ugly and downright disrespectful,” because of comments in favor of rezoning. “I think change is good for the city” he said, “hamburger man has spoken.”
Joe Proffitt spoke on behalf of his family and grandmother, and stated, “We are for the rezoning change…we just don’t see how this zone is going to hurt our community…we do hope you’ll consider our point of view also.”
Roger White said, “If our children were going to have jobs, they had to leave town…I’m not opposed to city rezoning. I do think business needs to expand…I’d like to see private industry excel. I believe not allowing this rezoning is the wrong thing.”
Max Burgess said, “I’m for rezoning. This business [has] been there since 1931. Apparently, someone knows what they’re doing….”
Read the full story in the July 28, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.