BOWLING GREEN - The city Planning Commission last night recommended council reject a controversial request to rezone three near-downtown lots where the Wood County District Public Library wants to build a parking lot.
The Planning Commission listened to residents on both sides of the issues for more than 90 minutes before voting 6-0 against rezoning the property along the west side of North Church Street. About 100 people attended the meeting at the Bowling Green Community Center.
Chairman Lester Barber abstained from voting and sat out of the discussion after he was admonished last month by Assistant City Attorney Matt Reger for publicly expressing negative opinions about the way the library went about trying to build the parking lot.
Mr. Barber had told the commission Sept. 7 that he felt the property owners - Robert Maurer and the library - tried to manipulate the Planning Commission and council into rezoning the land. An old house on the property was demolished, huge old trees were cut down, and the hill they sat on was excavated before the owners applied for rezoning.
Several people who spoke out against the rezoning last night agreed with that assessment.
"This change is being brought to you as close to a fait accompli as the law allows," said Bruce Dunlavy, who formerly lived in the neighborhood.
He said the property owners destroyed what people would have tried to preserve before they knew it needed to be preserved.
"They destroyed more than trees," Mr. Dunlavy said. "They destroyed something that's even more precious in Bowling Green. They destroyed a hill."
The property is now a bare sand lot, but is zoned residential and cannot be used for a parking lot.
Mr. Maurer, who owns the lot at the corner of North Church and West Court streets, and Port Lawrence Title & Trust Co., which holds the title to the adjacent lot owned by the library, want the city to zone the property institutional.
Scott McEwen, president of the library's Board of Trustees, said parking was "the No. 1 complaint of our patrons."
"The lot is regularly full," he said. "We believe strongly that parking is an issue of accessibility - that when folks can't park there, the library is not accessible."
Mr. Maurer also spoke at length about why the lots were cleared and why he believed a parking lot was "very compatible" with the area, which has a mix of commercial zoning nearby.
"This particular property probably has created a great deal more interest than we ever anticipated and probably than we could anticipate," he said.
Still, residents said they were upset that the library, which is supported by tax dollars, would purchase property and make plans to build a secondary parking lot without any public discussion of its plans.
"I'm just a little disappointed that the library didn't bring this discussion to the community at large," said Andrew Layden, who lives on South Church Street. "I hope you won't reward this behavior, and I hope you won't set this precedent for future development in the downtown area."
His wife, Kim Layden, who serves as president of the Boom Town Preservation Society, agreed.
"I love the library and I want it to succeed and flourish, but they have to respect the neighborhood they chose," she said.
The rezoning request likely will be introduced to council Oct. 17, with a public hearing in late November or early December.