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P&Z puts brakes on zoning change

A request to change the zoning of a building to allow a motorcycle shop to open hit a detour Tuesday night.

The Excelsior Springs Planning & Zoning Commission voted 4-2 to deny the  proposal by Dana Starns of Starns & Sons, LLC, to change the zoning of 522 S. Kansas City Avenue from residential use to commercial use.

The issue was complicated by the fact that the building itself, most recently the home of the Excelsior Springs Bottling Company, has never been residential. Furthermore, changing the zoning to C-3 would bring it more in line with other neighboring commercial zoning, including both C-2A and C-3 zoning.

But things got tricky when members of the commission were uncertain about several conditions recommended by Planning Director Bill Ahrens, as well as being unsure about just what kind of impact the Starnses’ business would have on the neighborhood.

Ahrens had recommended approval of the zoning change, pointing out that the water bottling company had required a special use permit to operate at the site because of the residential zoning. Changing the zoning would eliminate the need for a special use permit for future commercial operations.

However, Ahrens listed three conditions that he felt would minimize the business’s impact on its neighbors: That the business would operate during normal business hours and not later than 7 p.m.; that there would be no maintenance or repair work done; and that there would be no storage of fuel, oil, solvents or chemicals on site.

But when Dana Starns explained the nature of their planned business, some commissioners immediately spotted trouble ahead.

Starns said that they plan to sell used motorcycles and accessories, and perhaps add a scooter rental business later that could be offered not just to local residents, but to guests of various hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in town.

Commissioner Jim Rice, a motorcycle enthusiast himself, said he didn’t see how the Starnses could sell bikes and accessories without doing any repairs or maintenance, and without having fuel and oil on the premises.

In addition, Mayor Pro Tem Brad Eales, who was in the audience, said he had spoken with a couple of the other members of the Excelsior Springs City Council and believed that it would be unreasonable to expect the business to close at 7 p.m. or before if they were renting out scooters.

Dana Starns explained that they would need to have gas and oil not just for sale, but also to make sure the bikes were in working order and ready to take out for test rides by potential buyers. She also said that they didn’t plan to do any mechanical work, such as engine or transmission repair, but would do cosmetic repairs and maintenance such as handlebars, lights and signals and other minor pieces before the bikes would be ready for resale. Major repairs would be farmed out to other bike shops that had more capability, Starns said.

She also said she understood the point of the early closing time would be to limit the amount of noise for neighbors, but she pointed out that Wabash BBQ, just down the street a short distance, is a popular destination for bikers throughout the Kansas City area, with literally hundreds visiting on some weekends. She said their business would add very little noise to what the neighbors there were already accustomed to hearing.

Still, some on the commission were concerned about noise.

“It’s a residential area, and we’re obligated to do what we can to keep the entire community somewhat peaceful,” said commission chairman Bob Gerdes. “When you bring motorcycles to an area where there are churches, hotel, houses and a school there’s going to be noise.”

Dave Lawrence, the deputy superintendent of schools for the Excelsior Springs School District, said his main concerns related to noise and traffic. According to Dana Starns’s husband, Peter, normal shop hours will be 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the foreseeable future, and Lawrence said those hours are also close to school hours. He pointed out that classrooms and the library at nearby Lewis Elementary School could be affected by noise, though after hearing Dana Starns speak he wasn’t sure that there would be much noise. However, he said traffic is significant around the area before and after school, which he noted could actually hinder the business’s operation.

Keith Bowen, who lives next door and was the most recent past owner of the building, also said noise was his concern. His master bedroom is only a short distance from where the Starnses would be bringing motorcycles in and out, and he said not only would his family be living with that, but his property value would decline as well.

However, Bowen added that he would live with whatever decision the commission made.

Commissioner Kenny Manley said he had some doubts because he didn’t fully understand the Starnses’ business plan. He suggested changing the request from a full-fledged zoning change to another special use permit, with an expiration date and an option to renew. However, other commissioners pointed out that such a move would require the Starnses to start the process all over again, withdrawing their zoning change request and reapplying for a special use permit.

Commissioner Stephany Hughes made a motion to turn down the request, and commissioner Mark Seneker seconded the motion. It passed with Rice and commissioner Joe Arnold dissenting in the 4-2 decision.

However, the vote was only a recommendation to the city council, which will make the final determination on whether to accept the zoning change.

A proposal by Gary and Kim McElwee Sanson, in contrast, sailed straight through the commission and earned a unanimous approval. The Sansons plan to open two apartments on the upper story at 255 E. Broadway, and needed a special use permit for mixed residential/commercial purposes. The apartments, which are 1,029 and 802 square feet, respectively, are above the building which most recently housed Turnback Creek; Kim Sanson said there are some prospects for the lower stories, as well.

However, she said that instead of apartments, they wanted to offer the units as short-term rentals similar to an inn or bed and breakfast, ostensibly to increase the number of beds available to visitors to the community.

Like the zoning change, the special use permit also must be approved by the city council.

By Eric Copeland • eric@leaderpress.com

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