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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Request Leads Highland Heights to Reconsider Professional Office Zone Uses

Earl Woeste owns one of the two office buildings in the 1800 block of Alexandria Pike. He requested a zone change to help attract more tenants.
 

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by Robin Gee

A request by the owner of one of two office buildings in the 1800 block of Alexandria Pike to change from a Professional Office to General Commercial zone sparked a discussion by the Highland Heights Planning and Zoning commissioners that may lead to changes in the city’s Professional Office zone.


At a public hearing on June 8 to plead his case to change the zone for his office building, Earl Woeste said he has had to turn away rental opportunities for his building due to the restrictive nature of the Professional Office zoning ordinance. This prompted him to request a change to a General Commercial zone.

Woeste is president of Woeste Builders, primarily a general contractor in Alexandria, but he owns one of two buildings on the property listed. His building is listed as 1801-1805 Alexandria Pike, and he leases out offices in that building under the name J.A.E. Development Company, LLC.

The building sits next to similar office building with a different owner that houses two dental offices. The building owners have an agreement for cross usage of the single entrance to the property.

Loss of potential tenants due to use restrictions

Woeste’s building has space for three tenants. One third is occupied by a mixed martial arts studio. He said he anticipates a second occupant, a weight loss clinic, may likely move in the next year or two. The third portion of the building stands empty.

"I’m just not getting people to come look at it for lease. Ken Perry [Realty] has had it listed for at least five years. We’re just not getting the traffic; the building is in the red. What I’m trying to do is get the zone changed so it would be more friendly for businesses. I need to get applicants in, lease the space, get that building in the black." 

Earl Woeste said a zone change could open up the pool of potential for his office building.


Highland Heights Zoning Administrator Dave Whitacre said he suggested to Woeste he might apply for a zone change. He noted that he has had to reject some of the businesses that showed interest in the building because they do not fit into the narrow list of permitted uses in the city’s Professional Office zone, even though they may have been appropriate for that location.

In recent years, Woeste had interest from a dance studio and a dog training facility, but both were rejected because they are not specifically permitted uses.

The change to a General Commercial zone would expand the list of uses available to Woeste, but the move would bring with it other concerns.


 



Neighbors worry what the changes could bring 

The building is across from a residential zone with single-family houses on nearby Maple Avenue. Some of the neighbors attended the public hearing with their concerns.

Ron Webster, of 57 Maple Avenue, owns property that sits across from the site. He said he’s been there 42 years, before the buildings were built. He said he’s been in communication with other neighbors, and their main concern is that a food business could go in, and they are adamant that no businesses that would emit odors of any kind should be permitted.

"By changing the zone, you may open a can of worms. The neighbors agree no restaurants, no businesses with odors or any kind. So, the question is, can you make up an ordinance with special requirements or is it that what you see is what you get here? We’re just concerned about the odor, the traffic and garbage with grease that might draw rats."

He said he’d be open to another type of business as long as it is not one that serves food or emits odors. He noted that the martial arts business has been very quiet and are considered good neighbors. 

A potential zone change leads to additional concerns

Webster’s concerns brought up questions for the commissioners. Planning and Zoning Chair Steve Crawford said he questioned whether commissioners had the authority to change a zone with specific restrictions attached to that change. He also said he felt strongly that, because the two buildings are very similar in where they are situated and how they operate, it could cause problems if one building was changed to a different zone than the other.

Woeste said the other building owner was aware of his request but didn’t feel the need to make the same request at this time. Crawford noted, however, that if either of that owner’s tenants were to leave, he, too, could be in a similar situation as Woeste.

Whitacre said "As the zoning administrator, my standpoint is I have far more trouble with vacant properties than I do with properties that have viable businesses in them. If Mr. Woeste could get a reasonable list of uses that he could put in that building, to market that building, the city would be a lot better off. There are 52 permitted uses in a commercial zone and there’s five conditional uses."

He noted many businesses permitted in the General Commercial zone would not be appropriate and would require site changes, but he listed off many that could work including dance studios, yoga studios, indoor recreation facilities, arcades, virtual gaming, fitness clubs and others. 



Motions put request on hold and ask staff to give another look 

City Planner Dave Geohegan suggested, rather than attempting to fit the office building into a new zone, it might be better to reconsider the list of permitted uses in the Professional Office zone.

By adding uses to that zone, it would avoid concerns about businesses in the commercial zone that are not appropriate and would eliminate the concern that the two very similar buildings would be treated differently — and would help Woeste by expanding the types of tenants he could attract.

Geohegan’s proposal would require a zoning text amendment and a public hearing. A change in the zoning uses could affect businesses in other Professional Office zones, but only in terms of expanding options for those properties, Whitacre noted.

A text amendment would require time for a new public hearing and for a council vote. Whitacre said the process could take three months and a public hearing for the zone text amendment could happen next month.

Commissioner Gene White made the motion that discussion and action on the zone change request be tabled for now. Commissioner John McNabb made a motion to task the staff to re-evaluate the permitted uses in the Professional Office zone with an eye toward expanding uses in the zone.

Both motions passed. A public hearing will be set before the next Planning and Zoning meeting on Tuesday, July 13 at 7 p.m. The Planning and Zoning Commission meets in the City Building, 176, Johns Hill Road.

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