HURON — Bob Jones, who moved with his wife Sharon to their new twin home on 26th Street in the past year, wants to make one thing very clear to voters heading to the polls on May 16.
He has no issue with a new apartment building in the Southtown Addition. His concern, and it is shared by others, is the placement of what may become WheatGrass Village.
“We property owners on Frank Ave., and on 26th Street went to the planning commission meeting where the rezoning was discussed,” Jones said last week, “and we stood up and said that we support the apartment building; we know the city needs it. All that we asked is that it be moved to the north part of this vacant area, and that the south two-thirds be left as single family housing.”
The planning commission, which is an advisory board to the city commission, deadlocked on the issue. It was passed on to the city commission without a recommendation. The city commission approved the rezoning.
And it is the rezoning, how it was handled, that prompted Jones and his son-in-law Todd Smith, to take out and circulate petitions, to refer the commission’s decision to a public vote.
“Right or wrong - mostly wrong - this whole thing has morphed into a vote for or against the apartment,” he said.
Nearly all votes made by a governing board - city, county, school or even the state legislature - can be referred to a public vote, if enough signatures are collected on petitions to do so. Recently, the S.D. Legislature opted to change a voter-generated law on minimum wage in the state. Voters collected a sufficient number of signatures to bring it to a vote and the majority of people in the state again voted for the original proposal.
So, referring a matter is not anything new. But this referral has taken a different turn. A do-or-die, up or down vote on an apartment that could have a huge impact on the community for the foreseeable future has been linked to the vote on the rezoning referral.
“Again,” Jones said, “I don’t have an issue with the apartment building, only its placement.”
Jones and others purchased their lots in the Southtown Addition at a city auction. “When we did, the half-block behind the fire house and the lot behind Coborns where the senior housing building is going to be built were zoned R4 (Multi-family housing),” he said. Everything else was either R2 or R3, which are single family houses or duplexes. That is all we were attempting to protect.”
Jones is a veteran of many advisory and decision making boards and sat on the Huron City Commission. He has seen rezoning over the years, but recalls nothing of this type and magnitude.
“Most of the time, rezoning takes place for a business or industrial site that doesn’t quite fit the area,” he said. “Not in my memory has such a mass rezoning taken place for housing.”
So, what happens if the yes votes come out with a majority on Tuesday?
“We accept the vote however it comes out,” Jones said. “The majority rules. If it goes against us, in my opinion, it is because people aren’t thinking it all the way through. Again, that is just my opinion. Those on the opposing side have a different viewpoint.”
Jones thinks that things could have been handled differently.
“What really stuck in my craw was it was all hidden from the public,” he said. “Why didn’t Dakota Provisions, Greater Huron and the city commission step up and say ‘Hey, this is what we are trying to do, let’s get together and see how we can make this happen.’ That is what I as a property owner would have appreciated.”
Jones said that he can live with an apartment building out his front window, two blocks away. The issue for him is how quickly and quietly he feels the rezoning was handled.
“I am a firm believer that city government should govern with the people, not just govern the people,” he said.
Regardless of their thoughts and feelings on the issue, Jones encourages everyone to be sure and vote on Tuesday.
“Don’t stay at home and sit on your hands,” he said. “Go out and voice your opinion, whatever that may be.”