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South Point Village Council discusses variance

Follow-up session set for Wednesday

SOUTH POINT — A hearing took place at South Point Village Hall on Wednesday to discuss an appeal regarding the use of the former elementary school building.

Trinity Cheer and Dance, a team who were displaced from an Ironton gym last year, are seeking to establish themselves in the building, which is zoned for residential use.

Katrina Anson, who owns Trinity, had approached the council about use of the building over the summer. She was told, due to zoning, they would need to seek a variance in order to use the location.

The variance, filed by the building’s owner, Joe Freeman, was denied by the village, as it was found not to meet the requirements for the location and an appeal was filed.

Neighbors were notified and the hearing was scheduled.

Wednesday’s session, which preceded the monthly meeting of council, drew a packed house of both supporters and opponents of the request.

The council served as the appeal board and, as the code specified no role for Mayor Jeff Gaskin, he turned proceedings over to village solicitor Randy Lambert.

In order to be granted the variance, it must be found that conditions apply to the building that find it unique, that strict application of the code would result in hardship for the property owner and that the benefits to the property owner and the village as a whole outweigh the drawbacks.

Freeman first came to the council in 2010, seeking to purchase the former school and was told it was zoned for residential use.

In July 2011, he purchased the building.Then, in April 2014, asked for variance to allow the property to be used for legal firms, surveying companies and other specific office uses.

He was granted this in May 2014 and Quality Care Nursing operates out of the building.

Speaking for Trinity at Wednesday’s hearing was Sarah Carver, whose husband, James Carver, is partners with Freeman.

She said the team needs the building as it has a gymnasium that would be able to house the spring flooring needed for practice. She said there are no other buildings in the area available that meet these specifications.

Anson said Freeman has also donated use of the building, forgoing rent until the business can get established.

They said the benefits to the community would include members of the team patronizing local businesses and that the facility would have open gym once a week, in which people could make use of the flooring for tumbling and cheer activities.

Anson said she was not operating Trinity as a nonprofit, due to the need for insurance, which is easier to obtain for a private company.

Anson said she had not sought to become a business owner and that her efforts were to keep the team together.

“These children are underprivileged,” she said. “They were put out by no fault of their own. I ask that you have an open mind. These are kids and they need us.’”

Carver said the impact of traffic would be minimal and a fraction of what the building drew when it was a school.

“We respectfully request the council reverse their decision,” Carver said of the variance, hoping they would take into consideration “the existence of a gym, amenities, its size and the layout.”

She said they had collected signatures from a number of neighbors who supported the variance request.

At one point, Lambert asked those who were opposed and in favor of the request to stand and the opponents numbered about twice the size of supporters of those present.

Speaking for opponents was Brenda McKee, who lives in the neighborhood of the school.

She said that when Freeman was granted a variance in the past, he said he would not be back.

“It’s unfortunate that, after eight years, we still have to fight to maintain the integrity of our neighborhood,” she said. “This is not about who loves kids more.”

McKee said Freeman had bought the building, with knowledge it was zoned for residential use and that he has “already been given 10 reasonable uses for the building.”

McKee pointed out that the neighborhood was one of few in the village completely zoned as residential.

She said neighbors were concerned with increased traffic and that the area was popular for those walking and riding bikes because its residential nature.

“We know who’s coming in and going out,” she said. “That’s the kind of neighborhood we’d like to keep.”

Many felt that the variance appeal would lead to further neighborhood changes beyond Trinity’s request and McKee said the zoning laws were in place to “preserve the character of neighborhoods.”

She also said the request, which seeks to expand “use of gym on site for cheerleading, tumbling and related youth activities,” is too broad and that it opens up the building for other uses should Trinity move out.

McKee also took issue with the argument that the building drew more traffic when it was in use as a school, stating it was “bought with the knowledge that it was zoned residential.”

“Focus on what it was when it was purchased — residential,” she said.

Several attendees made statements on the matter.

Colton Copley, who serves on the South Point School Board and was a candidate for Lawrence County Commissioner this spring, voiced his support for Trinity’s request.

“I think, as a community, we need to look at the people who come in and offer things to children,” he said. “We know what a difference it makes for kids to be active.”

He addressed the concerns of neighbors that granting a variance could lead to more changes.

“I think the council would have the power to stop it,” Copley said.

Amy Adams, who lives in the neighborhood, said she was “not opposed to children.”

“But my neighborhood is my neighborhood and I don’t want increased traffic and no one can promise me that,” she said.

The council members, serving as the appeals board, asked questions and discussed the matter openly.

Bill Patrick said his concern was to the neighborhood, of which he said many are retired and “don’t want to put up with the noise and traffic.”.

“My job is to take care of the residents of South Point,” he said.

Chris Smith voiced concern that the variance request was “too broad” and needed to be more specific.

Mary Cogan asked Anson how long she would stay at the facility, to which she replied she had not discussed specifics with Freeman.

“My sole goal is to build us back up,” Anson said. “And once we grow, we could move.”

Several councilmembers wanted to know if a limited variance could be granted, to which Lambert said it may be the case, but he would need to research the matter.

“I’ll be more specific next time,” he said. “In other words, I’ll look it up.”

As council members wanted more time to discuss the matter and the discussion was running into the monthly meeting time, it was agreed to schedule a follow up hearing for Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m.