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Third time’s no charm for Sphire

Developer Mike Sphire’s latest plan to develop a 78-acre subdivision has failed to get zoning approval. Again.
He could say, ‘Three times and I’m out.’
But he won’t. Instead he said he’s not giving up. He thinks he has been discriminated against and so is considering a lawsuit.
His third proposal submitted for the land near Caesars’ Chariot Run golf course southwest of Elizabeth calls for 12 lots plus one 48-acre lot, which, Sphire claims, is exempt from zoning rules because it’s more than 10 acres.
Sphire said he believes he has met the opponents’ conditions as stated in the petition presented earlier to the plan commission. It says the signers would not object to 12 houses on the 78 acres of land, with each house having a minimum of 1,450 square feet. Two-story houses would require 860 square feet on the ground floor.
The signers (341) also object to trailers (single or double wide) and modular homes.
Sphire’s latest plan had the approval of the plan commission director and the planner, said planner Eric Wise. But the plan commission board did not accept their recommendation.
This time the plan commission sent Sphire’s request to the commissioners with no recommendation. Two previous plans ‘ one to rezone the property from agricultural/residential to residential only, and the second to develop 38 single-family homes ‘ were both rejected. Earlier, a plan for a 12-acre subdivision called CountryThyme was approved but with requirements for extensive improvements to a nearby intersection. The developers ultimately abandoned the plan as too expensive.
Wise told the commissioners Sphire’s plan for 12 lots would leave 48 acres vacant, which would still fall under the jurisdiction of the plan commission if it were to be subdivided in lots smaller than 10 acres.
Bill Keeton, spokesperson for the opposition, said yesterday:
‘The people in our community live here because they love the country. Having 12 homes on 30 acres including the road is the way things are done in the city.
‘The rural atmosphere that makes Harrison County a unique place would be destroyed.’
On Monday night the commissioners also took no action, which means Sphire’s request dies if no other action is taken within 90 days.
At least 25 residents left the commissioners’ room as a group, cheering the latest non-action. They had come to present their opposing views again. Sphire’s attorney, John Kraft, was also present. But Eckart wouldn’t allow discussion on either side of the issue that had already been debated at length by the plan commission board.
Eckart said, ‘I won’t allow input from the public. I don’t want our meetings to become plan commission meetings that last to midnight.’
Eckart said he had not been able to attend the Thursday night meeting because he was ill and contagious with strep throat.
‘It’s my opinion as a member of the board that the plan commission is charged with working things out.
‘I don’t believe the commission has met its charge,’ Eckart said.
Neither does Commissioner James Goldman, who was present at the plan commission’s meeting as an observer.
‘This has come back and forth, back and forth,’ he said. ‘I really don’t understand how we get into so much controversy.
‘If a plan meets the comprehensive plan that we have adopted, why is it not cut and dry? We as commissioners are obligated to uphold the comprehensive plan,’ he said.
‘The easiest thing for me to do is to do nothing,’ Goldman said, instead moving to approve the zoning change for the PUD (Planned Unit Development).
‘I won’t second that motion,’ said Jim Heitkemper, the commissioner in whose district the property is located.
‘I think the voice of the people should prevail,’ Heitkemper said as opponents clapped. ‘There’s ways to develop it right.’
‘I cannot adequately express the appreciation we, the opposition, feel for Commissioner Jim Heitkemper,’ Keeton said. ‘This commissioner listens to the people in his district and has the intestinal fortitute to stand up for them and puts their interest ahead of his own agenda.’
The opposition does not think Sphire’s plan meets the comprehensive land-use plan.
‘The number one goal in the comprehensive plan states, ‘encourage a wide range of residential development in areas of existing residences with sufficient infrastructure in place prior to development,’ Keeton said. ‘If ‘prior to’ wasn’t important, the writers of the plan wouldn’t have put it in there. But the writers had the foresight to know that if this is done the other way, you’ve got the cart in front of the horse.
‘If the members of the advisory board and the commissioners can’t agree on the number one goal, they may as well throw the book away,’ Keeton said.
Goldman’s motion died for lack of a second.
As the room emptied, Goldman said, jokingly, that his action had cost him at least 25 votes. ‘But I have to do what I think is right,’ he said.
‘Well, if they understand James’ position, they’ll understand that James is still acting in the best interest of all of the county,’ Heitkemper said yesterday.
Sphire, who was not at the Monday night meeting, said yesterday, ‘We have people who worry too much about losing votes.
‘At least Mr. Goldman had the integrity to stand up and do what’s right,’ Sphire said.
Keeton said, ‘Mr. Sphire’s desire to develop this land represents one vote.
‘We had a petition signed by 341 voting citizens who oppose this development. Surely this outweighs Mr. Sphire’s one vote.’
Goldman said yesterday that he had forgotten to mention the fact that the county engineer had previewed the plan and said the entryways were a much better fit than having 12 driveways coming out onto the road. It would have been a county road into the subdivision with a cul-de-sac at the farthest point. The entry road would be off Old Dam 43.
‘The plan had the approval of the plan commission director, the planner, and the county engineer,’ Goldman said.
But Keeton said Sphire’s restrictions on the development are ‘very self-serving.
‘For instance,’ he said, ‘one of the restrictions states that the structure must be approved by the developer. Now, this is like having the fox watching the hen house.’

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