The Fremont City Council during its Tuesday evening meeting voted in favor of, and had the second reading of an ordinance that would shift the zoning of a proposed housing development in south Fremont.
By a 5-1 vote – Council President Scott Schaller wasn’t present – the Council voted in favor of the request from Derek Kovick, owner of approximately 89.5 acres located at 1045 W. South St, to make a zoning change from RR Rural Residential and R-2 Moderate-Density Residential to PD Planned Development.
A third vote and reading will be needed for the ordinance to be passed, and implemented 15 days after the passage.
During a Sept. 26 Fremont City Council, several community members who live adjacent to the proposed development site and also at Rainbow Lake spoke out against the zoning change. If passed, the zoning change would greatly alter the landscape of the rural residential area, many highlighted.
During a Sept. 18 Planning Commission meeting, the commission voted 5-3 against the zoning change. One of the people who voted against the zoning shift was Brian Wiese, who owns property at Rainbow Lake. During the Sept. 26 Council meeting, Kovick made it a point of emphasis to tell the Council that Wiese voting on this matter with the Planning Commission was a clear-cut example of conflict of interest.
Wiese has since resigned from his seat on the Planning Commission.
Ward 4 Councilmember John Anderson was the lone no-vote in regard to the zoning change, saying that he believes the Council should generally rely on the Planning Commission’s judgement when making a decision. Once the Council goes against the commission’s suggestion, it’s easy for a domino effect to take place, and it’s also possible to lose more good county representatives like Wiese, Anderson added.
Duke Estates’ development plan calls for a mixture of single-family residential housing, attached single-family residential, townhouses and cottage single-family residential homes ranging in price from $145,000 to $200,000. One of Kovick’s major speaking points has been that while industry has been growing in Fremont, opportunities for affordable housing have not.
Opponents of the development have spoken about numerous issues relating to the project; including more pressure on sewers, flooding concerns due to the area being in the floodplain and the property needing to be elevated with fill, as well as heavy traffic flow in and out of an area with already narrow roads and numerous children walking to and from Washington Elementary School.
Ward 1 Councilmember Mark Legband said that these issues are certainly valid, but that this vote simply is in regard to the proposed zoning change. If zoning is, in fact, moved to a PD then the developer would have to do his due-diligence in terms of coming up with viable solutions to an assortment of problems before the Council would give any sort of go-ahead for ground to be broken for the Duke Estates project.
“I totally agree that there are lots of major concerns – and rightfully so,” Legband said. “Those are issues that have to be addressed, but tonight we are just voting on the zoning request only. I agree with your concerns, and I don’t know how all of this will work out, but tonight we are only voting on that zoning request, and then those other concerns will have to be addressed; I totally agree.”
Meeting attendee Kyle Wiegert spoke about how in his opinion, it’s an incredibly flawed attitude to approve a zoning change before a full plan of attack is in place to solve these problems.
“I just don’t understand the thinking that goes on here,” Wiegert said. “With all due respect to Mark, when you say we are going to have problems A, B, C, and D, and then you say, ‘I understand that there are going to be problems, but this is just a rezoning and we will worry about that later.’
“That kind of reminds me of the young couple that runs off right out of high school to get married, and the parents say ‘well you don’t have a job, you don’t have a place to live and you haven’t finished your schooling.’ And then the kids’ response is ‘oh, we will worry about that later.’”
During his time at the podium, Kovick said that he and his colleagues will continue working with Council and the public to make sure that I’s are dotted and all T’s are crossed.
“We want to make this the best fit for our community that we can,” Kovick said. “We’ve had housing studies during that last 10-15 years that tell us that we are short on that target range, between $140,000 and $200,000 homes.
“As a home buyer coming out here I looked at 30 homes and couldn’t find anything new, and had to settle for a house that needed a lot of work. I commute every single day into Omaha. I love the small town feel, and I know that if you aren’t growing you are dying. We are addressing the job issues here in Fremont but we’ve never addressed the housing.”