A group of McAlester residents have learned you can sometimes fight City Hall and win, even if it's in a roundabout way.
City councilors denied a developer's application to rezone the corner of A Street and Electric Avenue from a residential district to a neighborhood convenience district — but only after first failing to pass a citizens' request to delay a vote on the issue.
Prior to the votes, McAlester residents Randy Roden, Mary Stewart and several others addressed city councilors Tuesday night asking them to postpone a vote on whether to rezone residential property, including the southwest corner of A Street and Electric Avenue, to allow the construction of a new Family Dollar retail store.
A number of neighborhood residents and their supporters were opposed to rezoning the residential area to a convenience district, which would have allowed for construction of the Family Dollar and possibly other variety stores. They objected to what they maintained would be increased traffic in the area and other store-related issues, to the detriment of the neighborhood.
During a public hearing Tuesday night at City Hall, Roden presented city councilors with a citizens petition asking them to postpone a rezoning vote until a new Ward 4 representative is elected. The seat became vacant in February due to the death of James Brown, who was serving McAlester vice mayor and Ward 4 councilor at the time. Roden previously said he's a candidate for the Ward 4 seat, which includes the area affected by the rezoning request.
Stewart, who addressed city councilors after Roden, also asked them to wait until a Ward 4 representative is elected to represent their interests before voting on the application to rezone the area.
City Community Development Director Jayme Clifton and her staff also recommended postponing a vote on the rezoning issue until the Ward 4 election. Because of state election laws, September 14 is the earliest an election can be held to fill the Ward 4 seat.
City councilors closed the hearing after listening to the citizens' remarks, then took action on the matter when it came up later during the regular meeting agenda.
First, a motion to postpone a vote on the A Street and Electric Avenue rezoning application failed to gain enough votes for passage.
Voting "yes" for postponement were Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith; Steve Cox, Ward 2 and Billy Jack Boatright, Ward 5.
Ward 6 Councilor voted Zach Prichard voted "no" and Vice Mayor Cully Stevens —who presided over the meeting due to the absence of Mayor John Browne — abstained, which counts as a "no" vote. Although more councilors voted for the postponement than voted against it, with only five councilors present, the three "yes" votes were not enough to pass the measure for postponement.
Prichard then made a motion and got a second to go ahead and vote on the rezoning request — andwhen it came his turn to vote, he joined with the others in voting "no" on the rezoning request. That left only Smith voting "yes," with the result the rezoning request failed to pass.
Prichard confirmed to the News-Capital on Wednesday that he made the motion to go ahead and vote on the rezoning measure so he could vote against it without having to wait until Sept. 14 to do so.
"Yes, I did," Prichard said.
He said he opposed the rezoning for a couple of reasons.
"There was strong neighborhood opposition to it," Prichard noted. He also said that rezoning that area in the way requested is not part of the city's comprehensive plan.
"In the plan that is reserved for residential, low-density — not for commercial development," Prichard said of the A Street and Electric Avenue area included in the rezoning application.
"The comprehensive plan targets Main Street from downtown to Old Town," he said, referring to the area he said the comprehensive plan should be slated for more development.
Prichard said that's why he decided the council should go ahead and take action on the issue.
A vote to decide the issue had been postponed from the first city council meeting in June, after McAlester resident Donna Stewart presented city councilors with a petition signed by 37 city residents saying they had never been notified about the proposed redistricting and requesting a proper hearing.
City staffers had previously presented information stating that 37 notices had been sent on April 9 to property owners within 300 feet of the property requested to be rezoned, with 23 receipts returned by April 23, along with one that was returned unclaimed and another nine that were still out at that time.
Mayor Browne had presented a motion the council approved at the June meeting to delay a vote on the issue until July.
Jason Spencer, of Yukon, had applied for rezoning lots 9 through 24 in Block 44 from a R-1B Single Family Residential District to a C-2 Neighborhood Convenience District, with plans to construct a Family Dollar convenience store at the southwest corner of A Street and Electric Avenue.
Member of the McAlester Planning Commission, which serves as a citizen's advisory body to the city council, had voted 8-to-1 on April 28 to approve the rezoning request and sent their recommendation on to the city council. The C-2 rezoning would have allowed for a unified group of retail stores to provide for "needs and convenience of adjacent neighborhood residents," according to rezoning guidelines.
Prichard said Wednesday he thought the issue had gone on long enough.
"I wanted a vote on it," said Prichard. "I didn't see why there was any reason to delay the matter."
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.