Guest Column: A $500,000 question on the future of Central Commercial

Central Christian Church and Carol Ott need to reconsider their tactics as a reaction to the city council denial of their Conditional Use Permit request.

It's important to understand that $500,000 of taxpayer money in the form of a community block grant was spent on rehabbing that building. That money was given with the understanding the building had been and would continue to be retail. Our half a million dollars went into that building with the understanding that funds would be returned in the form of sales tax, property taxes, and growing a strong downtown.

Our city has ordinances to regulate where non-residential entities are allowed to operate. Such regulations help to guarantee that a welding shop or a propane manufacturing facility isn't allowed next to a residence just because "the property owner should be allowed to do whatever they want with their property." The conditional use permit is yet another means whereby a property owner and/or business may be considered for a location which excluded that business by zoning regulations. The purpose of a CUP is to gauge the impact of a business on an area and its neighbors.

For years our city has approved CUPs with term limits to better gauge the impact. I propose this as a solution: The city might wish to consider a one year approval of the CUP request. Contrary to City Attorney Carl Cooper's contention that it too goes against the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, one only needs to cite the numerous times the city has imposed such a limit on CUPs.

The law's intent is that no false barriers be raised to deny a church from locating in a downtown. It is clear by placing a one-year condition on the CUP, Central Christian Church and Ms. Ott would be treated like any other CUP applicant in the past and in the future.

During that year a careful examination of the impact could be undertaken. Surely this would be acceptable to a reasonable applicant since that applicant has repeatedly pledged it will not negatively impact the area. Let us see.

There are other means of action available to Ms. Ott and Central Christian Church besides threatening financial ruin for our city. Is this Christian- or even civic-minded, especially given the financial condition of our city at this time?

The Central Commercial building is an outstanding addition to the architecture of our community. At one time it was a major part of a very vibrant retail hub which was the center of our town. It would help the downtown businesses tremendously if there was a strong retailer in that location. Ms. Ott would be viewed as the major mover in a revitalized, prosperous downtown once she secures a retailer for the building. Retail grows retail. A church does not grow retail.

I hear Ms. Ott has tried to rent the space since Home Style Furniture vacated. I question how active she was in doing so. I served on the Economic Development Commission and was instrumental in the city's first booth at the International Council of Shopping Centers retail convention. The city has actively pursued retail for more than six years. I have helped man our booth at nearly half of these conventions. Property owners have been encouraged to submit their retail space to be showcased to the hundreds of retailers attending this important gathering. I personally have been approached and have submitted location information to retailers in hopes of filling some of our empty shops.

I don't recall Ms. Ott ever submitting Central Commercial building information to the Economic Development Commission in hopes of securing a retailer. It takes time and effort to bring retailers into a city with such low disposable income and relatively small population. Yet it is clear there is some civic responsibility Ms. Ott must recognize as a prominent property owner. Again, retail strengthens retail. A church does not.

I call upon Ms. Ott to withdraw her application and work with the city to secure a retailer for her beautiful building.