Approximately 60 people filled the Wauseon Council Chambers for a special meeting concerning a zoning change on July 7. The zoning change, coming at the request of Tim Dennis of Dennis Apartments, involves the proposed extension of Oldfield Village on acreage Dennis already owns beside the Pat West Subdivision. The extension would require a change in zoning from R-2 (single family status) to PUD (planned unit development). The change is one that many residents feel may be a dangerous precedent that would allow other developers to continue to build throughout Wauseon.
Dennis opened the meeting by explaining changes he has made to his plan in an effort to meet the concerns of the Pat West residents. Changes explained included how the water mains would be ran into the development and the amount of times per week refuse would be picked up. Dennis also acknowledge that the number of planned units has gone from 37 to 38 and explained that the plan is an effort to address what he sees as an increased demand for housing in the Wauseon area.
Dennis’s opening statement did not last long as concerned residents began to take their turn at the podium to ask questions and to elaborate on their concerns. Tom Bechill was the first to address Dennis, Wauseon City Council, and Attorney Mark Hagans, who is representing the City of Wauseon in the matter. Bechill explained that he and other residents of the Pat West subdivision have invested heavily in their residences because they love the neighborhood, which they see as having plenty of open space, and being a quiet and safe place to live. Bechill explained that he would not have invested as heavily in his residence as he had if he had known that the proposed changes were a possibility and that the pleasant environment of Pat West is the “work of all of the neighbors. This is the reason for zoning laws – the protection of investments”.
Susan Short also spoke, thanking Tim Dennis, for trying to address the concerns of the residents but noting that “nothing short of R2” zoning would satisfy their concerns. Among the concerns listed by Short and several other residents was the plan’s ability to meet the criteria of the Comprehensive Plan and to meet the criteria set forth in the existing ordinances. Congestion, crime, and aesthetics were also a major concern. Data supporting the Pat West residents’ argument that crime would be significantly higher and that there is no current need for additional housing in Wauseon were presented.
Dennis later addressed these concerns by asking where the Pat West residents had found their data and by explaining that calls made to the police department concerning loud music or other minor complaints constitutes a crime wave happening in Oldfield Village. Pat West residents refuted Dennis’s claim by alleging that he was overlooking the more serious calls made to the Wauseon Police Department from the village.
Dennis also commented that the census information being used to support the Pat West residents’ claims is now four years old and does not coincide with current economic trends or the requests made to his office from those looking for housing. He went on to further explain that, while no new industries have come into the area that would suggest the need for additional housing, that the addition of one or two employees by a company does not necessarily warrant a headline but does increase the demand for housing. While the Pat West residents’ data suggests a vacancy rate of approximately 9%, Dennis argues that his personal vacancy rate is virtually non-existent, perhaps because he is giving residents what they really want – a home with a front door, a back door, and a porch. Dennis explains that people seeking housing do not want to live stacked on top of one another in apartments with parking lots but, instead, are seeking housing where they can drive up to their own front door.
Paul Soltis also challenged the plans ability to meet the legal language of the ordinance that would allow for PUD zoning. The ordinance states that such a change would need to benefit the entire community and be an aesthetic asset to the total community. He also asserted his belief that the proposed changes are at the “pure benefit of the land owner (Dennis)” and expressed his desire for council to intervene. “We voted for you. Protect us; we expect you to protect us,” he stated. “You have one chance to do the right thing. This could devastate and break this community”.
Will Rogers, a Wauseon Police Officer who does not own land in the Pat West subdivision, also spoke and pointed out the concerns of others outside of the subdivision and presented a petition to council.
Not all of those who took the podium did so to speak out against the proposal, however. Alyse Mull, an employee of Dennis Apartments, also attempted to speak and stated that she felt like Tim Dennis and Dennis Apartments were “being bullied”. Mull also stated that the residents were overlooking the good that Dennis Apartments has brought to the community by offering affordable housing to youngsters starting out and senior citizens looking to downsize. “Tim has worked to not impose on anyone. This is his town, too. He’s proud of Wauseon, too. He works to keep the revenue here. We get phone calls everyday for people looking for apartments – not houses. Not everyone can have a mortgage,” Mull explained. She also pointed out that Dennis Apartments rents to both senior citizens and those with handicaps, with Tim Dennis doing all of the maintenance and upkeep of those apartments.
Mull was visibly emotional during her turn at the podium and the audience’s emotion also elevated during her arguments, leaving Wauseon Mayor Doug Shaw struggling to keep order during the meeting which has already gone beyond its scheduled limit.
During the meeting, Council President Heather Kost inquired as to the primary reason for eviction from Oldfield Village and as to whether or not Dennis Apartments had been turned away from any other village where he currently owns property. Dennis noted the primary reason for eviction is non-payment or inability to get along with others and that he has not presented such a proposal to any other community.
Current land ownership and pending purchases of Tim Dennis were also put into question by audience members. Dennis noted that he does own the land the proposal deals with as well as other land and does have pending land purchases. He did, however, explain that he does not intend to expand beyond the current proposed plan.
While some residents asserted that they feel no direct ill will towards Tim Dennis or Dennis Apartments, the tension in the room remained apparent through the entirety of the meeting. When asked for a final statement by “The Village Reporter”, Tim Dennis responded that his intent is to put Wauseon to work. He expressed his frustration by explaining that “New houses and duplexes should not be a reason for controversy or scorn. All we want to do is put people to work and provide places for people to live.”
The matter will be put to council for vote during the July 21 council meeting.