City Hears Neighbor Objections to Illustrative Plan

FOIA Kerfuffle Results in Attorney Advice, Council Action


city council

By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer

HARRISON – The October meetings of the Harrison City Council saw a bit of citizen pushback regarding the illustrative development plan which had been presented to Council Sept. 10. The plan, created by Fleis & VandenBrink suggests interrelated potential uses for the Harrison Area Economic Development Corp. property on Old County Farm Road, also known as the Weldon Property. The illustration is intended for presentation to developers to better enable them to see how their projects would mesh with the others. Part of that plan suggests the possibility of extending Weldon Drive as access to and egress from the property. Concerned that opening the current dead end would adversely affect residents on Weldon as well as those living on the adjacent cul-de-sac, residents voiced their concerns to Council at the Oct. 1 City Council meeting,

Darrell and Sherry Weldon attended to learn the specifics of what was actually in the planning stages, and learned that nothing was actually being planned, that HAEDCO was doing the development and that the illustration was a grouping of logical possibilities and simply an envisioning tool to help developers to plan projects for the property. It also was explained that the City has no plans to do anything with that property, as it is not within the City’s jurisdiction; the City’s only involvement would be to provide infrastructure, i.e., sewer and water.

Sherry Weldon pointed out that when HAEDCO had made the original agreement of purchase, there had been a stipulation that there would be a 100-foot green belt around the property and that Weldon would remain shut off and not a drive-thrrough street.

[Reporter’s Note: Looking at the purchase agreement after the fact, it does contain the green belt stipulation, however, no mention is made of Weldon Drive.]

Council member Joni Ashcroft suggested the residents meet with HAEDCO to ensure awareness of the previous agreement made with neighbors and landowners.

When asked if the group’s meetings are public, Tracey Connelly, city manager and clerk, said yes, and that HAEDCO meets the first Monday of the month at Mama Cillie’s.

Concerns also were raised about the intersection of Weldon and N. Clare Avenue [Old 27], and the hazard that would be created by increasing traffic flow at what is already a short-sight traffic situation. One visitor noted compared the distance from the development property traveling Old County Farm Road down to Larch and out to N. Clare Avenue versus taking Weldon to the highway, implying there was no distance advantage to using Weldon. It also was suggested that Lily Lake Road on the property’s south border be pushed through to N. Clare Avenue, although there was no suggestion as to how the building of that county road could be funded.

Weldon Drive resident Shannon Coulson voiced concern that the City had approved zoning changes without proper notification to residents, specifically a portion of the property behind [west of] Gamble’s Redi-Mix. Coulson said she had made a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request at the City’s offices but had received no help from staff and that the response had been incomplete and not been accommodated appropriately, accusing the City of using unlawful procedures and asked that the City review its FOIA policy.

Connelly said the zoning change had not been made therefore not all the items Coulson had requested were available for the City to provide. She further encouraged Coulson to come to her office the following morning to straighten out just where the confusion lay.

Connelly said there had been discussion of making the change, but it had not been done. As it turns out, the zoning map which was created by Beckett & Raeder, did indeed contain erroneous color mapping and shows the property in question as having been changed to Commercial. At the next Harrison Planning Commission meeting, members moved to change the mapping to bring that parcel back to its original designation.

That action was brought to the Oct. 15 meeting of the Harrison City Council for a first reading. After a second reading and published notice and a waiting period, the map and ordinance will again be aligned.

Coulson returned to that meeting to voice her displeasure with how she had been treated when she came to speak with Connelly after the previous meeting. Reading aloud a letter she had sent to Council, she again cited being denied the information requested: copies of the letters sent to residents within the prescribed distance to the property in question informing of the impending change. Again, Connelly explained that because there had been no intended zoning change, no letters were required to be sent to inform of a change. Coulson also claimed City wrongdoing in the way it handled her FOIA request and accused Connelly of improper use of City resources by accepting HAEDCO phone calls on her City Hall phone.

When Coulson was finished, Harrison City attorney Jaynie Hoerauf stepped up to help clarify the City’s relationship with HAEDCO, which she described as a public-private hybrid organization which had been created at the behest of the City to promote economic development in the community. She said the City’s auditor would likely flag any concern, and thus be OK with that use of resources because HAEDCO is a nonprofit formed for the benefit of the city.

In addressing Coulson’s FOIA concern, Hoerauf said the City initially should have issued a 10-day extension, and that since the public notice sought does not exist, it would make sense for the City Council to grant appeal and direct the FOIA coordinator to do the response and fill out forms properly: Deny, Grant or Grant In-Part.

“Try to fairly charge the FOIAs so the burden isn’t born by the public for an individual’s request,” Hoerauf said.

Connelly noted the public hearing to correct the error in the map will be Nov. 5.

In handling Coulson’s FOIA appeal, Mayor Stacy Stocking set a motion to direct the FOIA coordinator to pull al the public hearing information, provide copies of 2017 zoning changes, reply to the FOIA certificate and waive the fee.

Harrison City Council meets next at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5 at Harrison City Hall, 2105 Sullivan Drive.