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Zoning appeals board passes Whitwell issue to planning committee

Hager wants to put 20 apartments in former grade school


The Ironton Zoning Appeals Board refused to approve developer Jack Hager’s plan to turn the former Whitwell Elementary School on South Fifth and Jones streets into a 20-unit apartment complex for seniors and veterans.

At a zoning appeals board meeting last week, the group upheld the zoning board’s rejection of Hager’s request for a zoning variance for the old building; Hager wants the old school that is now designated Residential-2, to be changed to a Residential-3 status.

An R-2 status means Hager could develop the property for four-unit occupancy; R-3 would allow him to turn the building into multiple units. He purchased the old building when the city school district built a new consolidated elementary school and put Whitwell up for bid.

“This is a $600,000 to 700,000 investment,” Hager said.

“Have you talked to the neighbors and got their opinion?” Mayor Rich Blankenship asked.

“Yes,” Hager replied.

“Oh no you haven’t,” Mike Pearson countered. Pearson said he owns two parcels of property in that area and Hager had not talked to him.

Hager said he has talked to other neighbors and they do not have a problem with his plan.

“Ironton has a lot of housing needs. I see the need for elderly housing. Sherman Thompson Towers has a four to five year waiting list,” Hager said. He said many who would want an apartment are tired of taking care of a house and yard.

“How big are the units are we talking about?” Blankenship asked.

“Nine hundred square feet,” Hager replied.

Tom Phillips, who is with the Ashland, Ky.-based firm Design Development, said the Whitwell building is 11,000 square feet.

Appeals board member Mike Corn explained that the appeals board can’t rezone property. Hager said he doesn’t want the area rezoned; he wants a variance for this one plot of land. Corn said that is something the city planning committee will have to do.

Pearson said when Hager bought the property he was well aware of the zoning designation.

“They made it perfectly clear when it was put up for bid what the building could be used for — no apartments,” Pearson told Hager.

Hager countered that he is trying to solve a problem the city has: The need for more and affordable housing.

“Would you want your neighborhood invaded by another 100 people?” Pearson asked Hager.

“What would you want to see done with it?” Phillips asked Pearson.

“A school,” Pearson replied.

Phillips countered that Ironton has built new schools and doesn’t need the Whitwell building.

The zoning appeals board agreed to refer the matter to the city planning commission. If the planning commission agrees with Hager, it then must favorably recommend the change to the city council.