On Tuesday, two scheduled votes on the North Heights rezoning were postponed indefinitely by a 3-2 majority on a motion by board member Freda Powell. She felt that the community disagreed with the proposal.
The board was so divided on the issue that board member Howard Smith brought forward yet another motion to overturn the previous motion to indefinitely suspend voting on North Heights. The motion failed by a 3-2 vote, with board members Eddy Sauer and Cole Stanley changing their votes to postpone the rezoning vote.
“In my mind, it makes sense to pause, go back and have another conversation about this,” said Mayor Ginger Nelson. She cited all the work that had been done so far on the rezoning.
“We still have to move the project forward but we realize we have as many citizens against this measure as we do for it,” said Powell.
Board member Stanley said he was always ready to come back to the table and negotiate. He proposed that the incentives and empowerment zones would better serve the purpose rather than the current proposal. He felt that working with businesses to change their own zoning would be a more effective solution.
“I’m against rezoning the personal property of anyone against their will… I’m not going to change my position,” Stanley said.
Previously, the first phase of the North Heights redistribution plan passed by a narrow 3-2 majority and was subject to a second reading and a vote, which would have finalized the proposal. Ahead of the board meeting, a petition was filed, signed by opposing business owners to force a qualified majority vote (4-1) for the proposal to pass. With the petition in consideration, a 3-2 vote would not pass the measure.
During public comments at the council meeting, Joe Shane, a representative for George Chapman, who is a major landowner who is part of the group that filed a petition against the city’s rezoning initiative, explained that his group owned more than 20% of the land ownership as required to force an absolute majority vote.
Amarillo resident Alan Abraham has spoken out in favor of redeveloping the community to revitalize the economy of North Heights. He said the area has been neglected in the past and the needs of the community outweigh the potential future benefits of a few landowners.
“You are North Heights’ only recourse to municipal government, and right now North Heights needs you to defend the inferior profit motives of a few landowners. City zoning laws are a key component of economic development in any neighborhood. Nothing changes until the zoning laws are compatible with the desired future growth, ”Abraham said.
What is at issue in this case is that the rezoning is usually changed by the owners of the properties, rather than a complete rezoning of an entire area. There was also a setback that not all community members were included in creating a solution for the proposal.
Fransetta Mitchell Crow, a resident of the North Heights community and former candidate for Amarillo city council, was disappointed by the indefinite postponement of the vote.
“I feel like this was just another setback for the North Heights community because when you say ‘postponed indefinitely’ it leaves you with no direction to go,” Crow said. “We need positive progress on this issue which affects all members of the North Heights community.”
Crow said the zoning and North Heights issues had been under discussion since 2013 and today, eight years later, no solution has yet been proposed. She also said that the city did not have a great deal of involvement from all residents and business owners in the community.
“Everyone should have a say in this issue in the community, and the solution should benefit all aspects of the community,” Crow said. “We need to bring unity back to the community.”
Timothy Gassaway, head of the Amarillo Region Black Chamber of Commerce, said the postponement was just another example of a failure to properly address this issue.
“The city didn’t have the main stakeholders involved in the process from the start,” Gassaway said. “We were ready to compromise, but we were forced to go out and sign petitions to end this forced rezoning. Today’s vote did not mean that we were unwilling to address pressing zoning issues and issues. “
Gassaway explained that the proposed zoning changes ignore current businesses and residences already in place. The city has licensed several mobile homes in the North Heights District over the years, as well as no standard zoning configuration that allows for multiple uses without a development structure. He believes the plan ignores what is already in place and is not a practical way to fix the neighborhood.
“The North Heights Advisory Association cannot speak for the neighborhood; they don’t have depth in the community, ”Gassaway said.
North Heights Advisory Association president Melodie Graves said the rezoning failure was disheartening for a long neglected community in need of structured revitalization due to lack of infrastructure.
“I want people to know that our community is not divided. Some people see this problem differently, but people as a whole want better for this community, “Graves said.” There are good things going on in this community, but if we don’t make this area more appealing to developers, it continue to drop.
“We approached it from a community perspective to make it better; you can see the disparities on this side of town compared to other areas with the patchwork zoning that has been allowed.”
Graves said some entities want to make this personal, but what’s best for North Heights is the priority. She noted that North Heights needs to have more community services so residents don’t have to travel this far to use them.
While all parties insist that there is no division, this issue appears to have no solution for a region in dire need of revitalization.