Local News

Some residents concerned about rezoning plans

SEBRING - For Maryann Young, who has breathing problems, the plan to rezone an area of land in Washington Heights to residential is a breath of fresh air. Young, who is particularly happy that the rezoning would prohibit the parking of trucks, said often the vehicles are left idling and the exhaust affects her breathing. And that's besides the trucks affecting the appearance of the area and causing a lot of noise, she said. "One of the trucks almost backed up into my mon and daddy's house," she said. But William Smith, who just opened Smith Automotive nearby, the rezoning is a concern. He said he would have never started a business had he known the rezoning would occur.
Young and Smith were among a few people who attended a public meeting Thursday evening on plans to rezone much of the land covered by the Community Redevelopment Agency. That includes the downtown area. City officials say they have worked on changes to the city's comprehensive plan and zoning map for the past seven years. Changing the zoning is the final step and much of the alterations involve allowing more flexibility in the downtown area. Goals include making it easier to develop and redevelop downtown property, emhasize a pedestrian friendly-walkable downtown along Ridgewood and in the circle and encouraging mixed uses, Sebring Planning Director Jim Polatty said. The City Council will hold public hearings on the plan on Aug. 6 and Aug. 13. One aim, officials have said, is to eventually increase the number of people who live in the central business district. Another change would allow some industrial development in areas a block off Ridgewood Drive. The change also would pretty much restrict the area along Ridgewood Drive to retail-type business, rather than gas stations, for example. That concerns John Malinowski, who owns Ridgewood Gas & Auto for just over two decades. He said he believes the area is appropriate for his type of business. Although he could continue operating his business, if he closed it, someone else could not open up a new automotive repair business. "You're devaluing our property," Malinowski told city officials. He also urged the city to concentrate on getting empty buildings filled rather than taking actions that would affect existing businesses. Gingerlee Mitchelllindo, a resident of the downtown area who battled the city for years over a retaining wall, said she believes there's a need for such businesses in the downtown area. She said if all places that sell gas are eliminated, she would have to travel several miles to U.S. 27. She also objected that the plan would result in some different setback requirements, saying the standards should be the same. As for Washington Heights, Smith said he understand the concerns of residents, but added that there's been commercial property in the area for a long time. He suggested that instead of eliminating it or stopping all parking of trucks, regulations be put on place on when the vehicles can be parked. "There's got to be some happy medium," he said. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834