Debate over converting building to apartments erupts at Continental council

By DARLENE PRINCE @cnDarlenePrince Published:

CONTINENTAL -- More than 20 people, who were present at the Continental Village Council meeting on Tuesday night, heard the sometimes contentious debate between Kevin Homier, Mayor Terry Dockery and council members over Homier's plan to convert the building he owns on Main Street into three apartments.

Some business owners spoke out against Homier's plans, while a local farmer voiced his support.

Homier said he has owned the building, located at 233 N. Main St., that he wants to remodel for several years and cannot find a buyer who will put a business in it. The building had formerly been a pizza place. He noted that he has had the building painted and fixed the roof. He said he is at the point where paying for the mortgage on the building is affecting his finances. He said he is only interested in constructing a quality building for the town.

Homier said he had spoken to Dockery and was under the impression that it would be acceptable to convert the building to apartments. Dockery said he told Homier that he would have to submit a detailed plan to council and get its permission before he could move ahead. Homier did submit a plan along with a request for a building permit that was discussed by council at its last meeting in February.

At that meeting, council said it needed a more detailed plan. Also noted during that meeting was that there are certain restrictions concerning property that sets next to a state highway, as does Homier's building. There was also the matter of having the property rezoned from commercial to residential before the building can be remodeled into apartments.

Homier said he was told if the building was remodeled into less than four apartments, he would not need ODOT's approval. He also was unaware of the zoning changes that are needed for him to go forward.

When the discussion erupted into a shouting match between Dockery and Homier, village attorney Scott Welch calmed the situation and told Homier he must deal with the zoning problem and that council has to sign off on the permit.

Councilman Tim Bragg said the safety issue of people in the apartments and the village's liability are council's main concerns. Homier said he will not "jump through the hoops" council puts in front of him and then be denied by the zoning board.

Councilman Tom Armey, who had previously served on the zoning board, explained some of the rules to Homier. He said the zoning data is on the village's website.

When Homier said he now realizes there is opposition to his plan among business owners on Main Street, several of them spoke out.

Lorraine Fuller repeated what she had said at the previous meeting that the children of the apartment dwellers would end up playing on Main Street and that the apartments would reduce the amount of parking for the businesses. Homier noted that the children could go to the village park less than a block away from his building.

Business owner Bill Prowant said the problem was that the village needs to get more businesses and that it was severely affected when the New Millennium factory shut down. He said the village needs to get natural gas to attract business. He said the village does not have a housing problem, it has a money problem.

Armey noted that council worked very hard to get natural gas into the village but that the majority of the people do not want it even though it will draw business to the village.

Business owner Denae Prowant, who owns the Split Ends hair salon, said, "I put my heart and soul into my business. I will remain here and raise my children here. I don't feel that apartments will allow the community to grow, and the town will die if it does not grow."

In Homier's defense, local dairy farmer Jan Van Ham said he employs 25 people and wants Homier to build the apartments so his employees can rent them instead of renting places in Ottawa. Van Ham pointed out that his yearly payroll is about $1 million and if his employees lived in Continental, they would be spending their wages in Continental instead of in Ottawa.

Council members then suggested that the matter be tabled until the next meeting in two weeks, which would give Homier time to talk to the ODOT representative and study the zoning rules. The matter was then tabled.

In other business, council:

-- heard the dilapidated Ford property will be sold at an auditor's sale, which will give the village a chance to buy it, demolish the house and offer the lot to Habitat for Humanity.

-- passed a request to allow the burned Tijerina home to be demolished.

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