KINGMAN - It was standing room only in the City Council chambers Tuesday evening as the Council, minus Councilman Kerry Deering, mulled the controversial rezone of a section of the Tuscany Village commercial development.
But after an hour and a half of debate, discussion and a surprise change of heart by Mayor John Salem, the issue remained unresolved.
Ultimately, Council voted unanimously to table the rezone until Deering's return.
The rezone, requested by property owner Richard Campbell, would convert a one-acre section of Tuscany Village at 810 Eastern Ave. from C-1: Commercial, Neighborhood Convenience to C-2-PDD: Commercial, Planned Development District.
The controversy centers on nearby residents' concerns that it would allow for the development of a convenience store on the property, which they argued would have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
Residents who spoke against the rezone Tuesday reiterated their top three concerns from the Aug. 12 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting: First, that a convenience store would sell beer and wine and would attract a negative element to the area; second, that the store would contribute to the local trash problem; and third, that a convenience store would result in increased traffic, which could lead to a child being struck by a car on their way to nearby Hualapai Elementary School.
Campbell argued that the residents were blowing the alcohol and trash issues far out of proportion, noting the many other gas stations and stores throughout the city that sell alcohol and distribute plastic bags. He said he would have no problem building a fence around the property to contain any trash, and noted that any "negative element" would be mitigated by the store's hours - 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Addressing the alcohol issue, Campbell said residents haven't had any serious objections to the Italian restaurant slated for his development, which he said would serve alcohol on the premises and would thus pose a greater potential danger than a store selling it in bottles.
"These are good people, don't get me wrong, but they act like Kingman is lawless," Campbell said. "A minor that wants to drink alcohol will have an easier way of taking it out of the house - their own home or their friend's home - than they would buying booze from a convenience store."
The alcohol and trash concerns found little purchase with Council members.
The traffic concerns did, however, with Janet Watson, Keith Walker and Carole Young each agreeing that the increased flow of traffic to a convenience store could indeed pose a danger to pedestrian traffic, particularly children.
"The stores that you have there now ... people go in and then park for half an hour to an hour, they're not going in and out," Watson said. "But people who stop at Gas-n-Grub and Hualapai Kwik Stop ... people jump in, they're in for five or ten minutes and they're back out."
Watson noted that, in a prior meeting between Campbell and local residents, residents voted to approve 63 other C-2 uses on the property. She said it struck her as a major concession and suggested that it shouldn't be difficult for Campbell to find another, less controversial client to move onto the development.
"There are a lot of children who walk that area daily, and that would be crossing the driveway to get in and out of that shopping center," Watson said. "That could be dangerous, just for the fact that kids don't always watch when they're nine or ten."
Walker concurred, saying that, while the development was attractive and an asset to the community, the traffic issues still loomed large in his mind.
"We've got a school there, there's kids walking back and forth, a convenience store is going to create a lot of traffic," he said. "That's my biggest concern, and that's the biggest concern I've heard from people in the neighborhood.
"It's a beautiful project," he added, "But the traffic scares me, being that there's only in and out on Eastern."
Councilman Ray Lyons argued that because the store would not have gas pumps, the amount of additional traffic would be sharply reduced. He pointed to the Circle K store near Kingman Middle School on Stockton Hill Road as an example of a similar development.
Acknowledging his earlier concern that the store would be "an accident waiting to happen" on nearby Harrod Avenue, Salem reversed his commitment to vote against the rezone, a vow he made last Tuesday at a meeting of the Arizona Youth Partnership. Salem said he had studied the issue further and had come to the conclusion that, with the store's frontage facing Eastern Avenue, it would provide ample ingress and egress for customer traffic.
"I was on the fence with this for a long, long time," he said. "And I can't see as to where telling someone that they can't put a neighborhood convenience store in here is valid."
Salem added that two of his closest friends had died as a result of alcoholism, but he believed that such problems would persist regardless of whether the convenience store was built. He said that when society tells children not to drink or smoke, they will still find a way to rebel.
"Keeping this place in here and telling them, 'No alcohol or tobacco' is not going to achieve the goal of reducing (the number of) kids from drinking or getting tobacco, it's not going to happen," he said.
Salem assured members of the Youth Partnership Coalition, who were present earlier in the meeting, that he still stood for the same values they did; but in this instance, the opportunity of drawing new business to Kingman was too good to pass up.
"I am just killing myself to bring out economic development around here," he said. "And now we've brought somebody here, and we're going to set the precedent of shutting the door on them when they come here."
Lyons made a motion to approve the rezone, which Gordon seconded. The vote failed 3-3, with Watson, Walker and Young opposed.
Watson then made a second motion to approve the rezone with the added condition that the convenience store could not sell beer or wine. This drew a confused objection from Tony Gillespie, the man slated to run the store, who argued that even without alcohol sales, the store would still generate a similar amount of traffic.
The vote passed 5-1, with Young opposed. Council then voted to take a five-minute break before considering the next item on the agenda.
During the break, this reporter asked Salem why he hadn't considered tabling the discussion until Deering returned, considering the split vote. Upon hearing this, Salem and Young both agreed they should have done that.
This reporter then asked City Attorney Carl Cooper whether such a vote was still possible. Cooper said it was, and following the break, Salem entertained a motion to reverse the previous vote and table the discussion.