WARSAW — A request for a special exception to allow a multi-family residential to be located within a C-3 zoning district was met with opposition at the Warsaw Board of Zoning Appeals meeting Monday, March 26.
The property, located at 471 – 519 S. Circle Drive, Warsaw, is currently a vacant commercial building containing six units. The petitioner, Jian Zhen, would like to convert the building into six residential units. Zhen was represented by Attorney Richard Helm.
Multi-family residential uses are permitted in C-3 zoning districts through special exception per the municipal code, provided they meet the requirements of section 12.0.3 and section 12.0.4.
Zhen has owned this property for 11 years and has historically rented to small businesses. Over the past few years, there have been numerous vacancies at this property, with Zhen reporting issues finding commercial tenants.
Due to the current shortage of housing in Warsaw, the planning department is of the opinion that the development of workforce housing should be encouraged. Several residents who reside in the Circle Drive neighborhood attended the meeting to protest the Special Exception request.
Circle Drive resident Don Runyan was the first to speak in opposition. “Our concern is that there will be traffic 24/7 whereas on a normal business day there would be some traffic but not that.”
Runyan then reported concerns with how Zhen would screen prospective tenants.
“He rented a unit to an illegal operation,” said Runyan. “I’m sure he would say when he did it that he didn’t know what was there, but it became very apparent when the interstate truckers came there and parked on the grass and went in and visited this business. He did not evict them. They were evicted when the police arrested them. It was a front for prostitution.”
Runyan then presented a petition signed by 17 homeowners on Circle Drive, stating, “We request that you not pass this variance.”
Another Circle Drive homeowner, James Fleming, shared concerns about upkeep of the property. Fleming explained that he has looked into other rental properties Zhen owns and has taken pictures of some of those properties in the past week. Fleming submitted the photos for board members to examine, pointing out what appeared to be a sign lying on the ground at one of the properties. According to Fleming, a washer and dryer are on the sidewalk at another property.
The third resident who spoke at the meeting, Jeff Sallot, reported concerns with increased traffic. “There are no turn lanes on 30 to get into this subdivision. It makes that area very traffic sensitive. This will increase traffic flow through the single entry point,” Sallot said.
“Of course my client is going to screen his tenants. He wants them to be able to maintain the property and pay the rent he is charging,” Helm responded.
“Regarding the illegal operation some years ago, it is identical to the one that happened in the city next door to a lawyer’s office on North Lake Street,” said Helm. “It happens. It’s not there. It was taken care of.”
In response to concerns related to the condition of Zhen’s rental properties, Helm stated, “I could probably, by timing, go to almost any house in the city and get pictures of things that should be maintained a little bit better. My client, as a landlord, is always attentive if someone brings it to his attention instead of coming in as an ambush at a zoning hearing.”
“A lot of what was brought up, while important, does not always fit the zoning rules that we have to abide by,” said ZBA President Tom Allen. “What I’m trying to say is – good points. The relevance of it is where we have to split hairs.”
“The city has a code enforcement officer. That’s the proper place for most of these complaints,” Helm offered.
Assistant City Planner Justin Taylor added that one recommendation by the planning department is for a 3 foot high screen buffer be placed on the south side of the property, between the parking lot of the business and the residence to the south to mitigate some of the headlights. Taylor stated this buffer could be something like shrubs. Board members agreed this should be a condition of approval of the request, with Helm immediately agreeing to this condition.
“My thinking would be this – if you leave it as is, you’ve got something that isn’t all that good and doesn’t look like it has any promise of getting better. So he either has to sell it or do something to enhance its value,” said ZBA Vice-President Rick Keeven. “At the end of the day, I favor the proposal.”
The special exception request was unanimously approved.
A variance request by petitioner, Kevin Carr, was also heard. Carr requested a use variance to allow an auto body repair shop to be located within a C-2 zoning district The property is located at 904 Buffalo St., Warsaw. Carr has been operating his business at this location since December 2017 but was unaware that his business had a nonconforming use until he applied for a sign permit. Carr’s business shares a building with a landscaping company.
Carr requested approval to continue to run his auto body repair shop at this location, adding that he has spoken with the neighboring property owner in order to ensure that no parking issues have been created. During the time that Carr has been operating the business, there have been no reported circulation or traffic issues as a result of his business. Carr’s request was approved by the BZA.
The next regular meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, April 23.