October 22, 2010 12:02:00 PM
The rezoning case before the Columbus City Council this week may seem like a small matter in the great scheme of things, but it brought out the worst in our leaders.
The council granted a request to allow business owner Janet Morris a zoning variance to build a 400-square-foot shoe store on to her Beauté Salon on Warpath Road.
The move by the council came after two unanimous no-votes by the Planning and Zoning Commission, and obvious sentiment against the rezoning from residents in the neighborhood, who came out by the dozens over the course of the meetings.
Residents, and the Planning and Zoning Commission, agreed that the business went against the character of the residential neighborhood. (The beauty shop was grandfathered in to current zoning rules; a rezoning request was needed for the addition.)
Unfortunately, racial politics has reared its ugly head, splitting a city council that has, for the most part, taken a color-blind approach. Morris is black. Residents opposing her business are white.
Council members'' minds appeared made up before Tuesday''s meeting. Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin moved to deny the request but received just one concurring vote from Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box. They are the two white members of the council.
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem then moved to grant Morris'' request. Again, the board split along racial lines, this time granting the request. Box and Gavin voted against it. Karriem, Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor and Ward 4''s Fred Stewart voted in favor of the request.
This was the second time the matter came before the council. At their previous meeting, the mayor avoiding the hot potato of breaking a 3-3 tie vote, sending the case back to the Planning Commission, which stuck to its guns.
The council''s actions clearly fly in the face of the wishes of neighborhood residents, the city''s own zoning code and the planning commission.
The city did put some restrictions on the request. The store can be used solely for shoe sales and operate between the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The lot will revert back to residential if the store closes. Those safeguards weren''t in place before this matter came before the planning commission.
Still, we believe the process has failed here. The planning commission did its duty to protect the city''s zoning laws. Residents were active in the process, speaking out against the change.
The council threw all that out the window, to grant a request that apparently only Morris and the four council members supported.
Only Morris spoke in favor of the rezoning at any of the meetings. Her argument to the council Tuesday night? The neighborhood "has a need for quality shoes."
We can appreciate quality shoes. But in this case, the shoe doesn''t fit.