Clarksville residents object to garden center rezoning

A restaurant, a banquet facility, a convenience store or a drug store — whichever it is, a group of Clarksville residents don't want it on the River Hill Garden Center property off Route 108.

"It's stuff that would be operating really late at night and would be doing deliveries," said David Elsaesser, who is heading the opposition to a rezoning request from the garden center being considered by the county Zoning Board.

The garden center's owners, Stephen and Cathy Klein, are trying to get their 6-acre residential property rezoned to business local so they can add a non-seasonal element to their business, such as a restaurant, banquet facility or store. Without that additional business, they argue, they will have to close the center.

The Zoning Board, which is the County Council sitting on zoning matters, heard the Kleins' case April 14 and the opposition's case Wednesday, June 15. The board plans to make a decision on the rezoning petition sometime in July.

The opposition, a small group of residents who live on Whistling Winds Walk, a residential area located behind the garden center, argue that another business on the property will bring more bothersome noise, traffic, lights and smells.

"I and many of my neighbors who border the River Hill Garden Center spend the majority of our days at home … and we have a huge stake in preserving the quality of life there," said Cynthia Asoka, who said she works out of her home, which is about 30 feet from the garden center.

She said the garden center is already too noisy, and also expressed concerns about increased traffic, declining home values, possible food smells if an eatery were to be added, and more outside lighting for a business that would be open longer hours.

For Shengjun Liu, who bought his home on Whistling Winds walk two years ago, the garden center is "already a nuisance" and he feels the rezoning could further impact the community.

"This afternoon, around 4:45, there was a truck unloading making huge noise," he said.

Susan Smith, testifying on behalf of the River Hill Village Board, said the garden center has not abided by the regulations set forth in its special exception. She noted that there have also been issues with maintenance of the property and negative impacts on nearby residents.

"There is concern that the garden center may not continue to be a good neighbor," she said.

Smith said the village board opposes the rezoning because it could "have a detrimental and long-lasting effect on the area."

To grant the rezoning, the Zoning Board needs evidence that the council erred in the previous comprehensive rezoning process.

The River Hill Garden Center was granted a special zoning exception in 1989 so it could operate on residential property. But when the county renamed special exceptions "conditional uses" in 2001 and created a list of businesses allowed to operate as a conditional use, garden centers did not make the cut. Thus, the Kleins' business has been operating as a nonconforming use for almost a decade.

However, the council members who went through the last comprehensive rezoning process in 2003 did not know the garden center was a nonconforming use because it had never been confirmed through a formal county process. If they had, they would have likely approved a zoning change, the Department of Planning and Zoning argues in its technical staff report.

The report recommends approval of the current rezoning petition.

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