By Ron Nunnari
CLAYTON — After approximately two hours of multiple residents (about two dozen) speaking out against the proposed ‘Salem Springs’ subdivision at the southeast corner of Haber and Phillipsburg-Union roads, city council July 20 adopted the second of two readings of an ordinance to change zoning from Rural Conservation District-2 to Planned Development District with specified conditions.
The ordinance also approves the preliminary development plan for the 42.99 acres tract.
A motion to deny the ordinance was made by Vice Mayor Tim Gorman with a second by Councilman Ken Henning, Jr. During the vote, Gorman, Henning, and Councilmember Tina Kelly voted to deny the ordinance.
During the vote to adopt the ordinance as written, the other members of council, Brendan Bachman, Dennis Lieberman, Greg Merkle and Mayor Mike Stevens voted yes with Gorman, Henning, and Kelly voting no.
A final development plan must be presented to the city for approval before any construction can take place. Clayton Properties Group, Inc. doing business as Arbor Homes would be the builder on the land, which is located just west of the existing Irongate subdivision located in the city of Union.
One of the residents that addressed council in opposition to rezoning and proposed housing development, Ryan Farmer, told council that residents would be seeking to stop the development by placing a referendum on the November ballot.
“If Ordinance O-05-23-08 is approved tonight, a five-member petitioner committee already assembled will provide a letter of referendum to the law officer regarding the just passed ordinance,” Farmer stated.
“Attached to the letter is a copy the ordinance obtained yesterday marked as draft, yet curiously labeled at the bottom, ‘as adopted by council on July 20, 2023.’ This copy is a draft and I ask that the law officer attach a final copy of the ordinance to the referendum letter,” Farmer said.
Farmer went on to say that the petitioners committee would seek repeal of the ordinance and request that the city provide appropriate petition forms as well as the number of signatures the city believes is required to validate the referendum.
He cited from the city charter the number of signatures collected would be based on 10 percent of the city electors from the last governor’s election.
“Since this will be on the ballot for the city, any registered voter in Clayton will be able to sign this referendum petition,” Farmer noted.
Following collection of signatures in the next 30 days, the petitioners committee will file the petition to repeal the ordinance with the county board of elections. According to Farmer, at that time the ordinance would be suspended.
He said the suspension would be resolved by one of four options.
“The board of elections will determine the petition is insufficient. Don’t count on it. The petitioners committee will withdraw the petition. Not likely. Council will repeal the ordinance. Possibly. Five days elapse after the board of elections certifies the results of the official vote on the question. Likely,” Farmer said.
“I find this a sad turn of events that a rezoning and development ordinance must go to referendum because four of seven council members know better than their voters and can only offer platitudes without substance in their justification,” Farmer commented.
“Such actions do not inspire trust and bring into question any other decisions these members make, much less the council as a whole,” he continued. “For those of us in Clayton north of U.S. 40, the path back to inspiring trust must include representation at the council table.”
Farmer added that discussion among himself and others affected by the rezoning, led to the conclusion that his background in strategic planning, budgeting execution and decision making had led Farmer to seek a seat on council to represent the city’s heavy rural area of Ward 1.
“In the next week I will be filing my candidate petition, which already has more than enough signatures to put my name on the ballot,” Farmer said. “I have met so many Clayton citizens who join me in saying, ‘Keep it rural.’ I am humbled by the tremendous amount of support I have received already.”
His announcement as a candidate for council brought applause from the residents attending the meeting.
During the council comments portion, Councilman Ken Henning, Jr., suggested that Arbor Homes consider changing the name of the development from Salem Springs to ‘Broken Promises.’
Councilman Greg Merkle noted that the ordinance was a hard item to try to come to terms with. He said he had some troubling thoughts after the last council meeting and the conversations that took place with how some residents were expressing their feelings.
“I was concerned for my personal safety from the standpoint that my position was viewed upon as being the opposite of what you wanted me to have,” Merkle said. “You wanted me to cast my vote based on what you wanted, not based on what I thought was possibly the right direction. I thought my physical wellbeing was in danger.”
He asked himself if he should change his vote to satisfy the wish of those that live on Haber Road. He considered doing so to assure his wellbeing and safety in leaving the government center. He stated that he is the primary caregiver for his 95-year-old father.
His father advised him to make the right decision and to stand by his decision.
“So that’s what I did. I stood by my decision,” Merkle said. “You don’t like it? Fine, you don’t like it.”
He added that he had heard a lot of comments from people and a lot of bad information that led to misinformation that led to stirring up commentary by opponents of the proposed subdivision.
“My interest is in ensuring that this city develops soundly, strongly and sustainable,” Merkle stated. “That is still where I stand as far as looking out for the interests of the entire community and your interests as well. If you look at this whole big plan for this development, you are dealing with this as a preliminary plan.
“This isn’t engraved in stone. This isn’t going to happen tomorrow the way that is designed. It has to go through planning development,” Merkle continued. “It has to get approved as a final draft.”
He chastised those who made accusations that the city’s director of development was in cahoots with the developer.
“I find it insulting in the fact that people think in so low regard of our city employees,” Merkle added. He believes those employees and the city manager deserve better treatment.
Reach Ron Nunnari at [email protected].