Several people speak out against changing permitted land uses

City staff says the city is moving in a new direction with the downtown area.

But some business owners don’t want to go there.

The Taft City Council approved recommendations from both staff and the Taft Planning Commission to rezone much of the downtown area to prohibit some industrial uses and make it a pedestrian-friendly area for retail businesses.

The Council approved the zone change on a 3-1 vote. Mayor Dave Noerr and councilmen Randy Miller and Paul Linder voted in favor of it.

Councilman Cliff Thompson voted against it, saying it’s just going to push the existing businesses out of the area.

The zone changes would allow the existing car washes, auto dealership and auto body repair shops to stay, but would not allow any new ones to come in.

“The intent is really to move our city in a new direction,” City Planner Lawrence Tomassello said.

However, several business owners disagreed.

Fred Holmes’ properties on Supply Row and Main Street would be allowed to stay, he was told.
But Holmes said he couldn’t add to his existing business, nor could others that would be classified as legally nonconforming.

“You’re just killing what little business we have left in the city,” he told the Council. “I can’t grow or improve my business.”

The changes are going to make it more and more difficult for the businesses in the affected area.

“Supply Row has been an industrial district for 100 years,” Holmes said. “There are a few businesses there, and we are forcing them out of town.”

Tomasello said the railroad property on Supply Row is being rezoned to mixed use. Much of the area to the north is being rezoned from general commercial to downtown commercial.

The railroad property’s designation will allow for more residential development, Tomasello said.

Changing Center and Main to downtown commercial and restricting industrial uses will make the area more conducive to pedestrians, Tomasello said

Bill Friend, who owns an antique business on the 700 block of Center Street that would not be affected, is still strongly opposed to the changes.

It’s bad for business, Friend said.

“It excludes a lot of businesses from coming in,” he said. “Look at how blighted downtown is. Things aren’t getting better, so why would you want to restrict business when business is so low in Taft?”

Roger Miller came back to the Council last week after speaking to the planning commission seeking assurances that he will be allowed to continue his efforts to build a storage facility on the 800 and 900 blocks of Main Street.

He has been working since 2005 through the permitting process and is seeking financing for the $2 million project, which would not be allowed under the new zone.

He was told he could probably proceed with his project, and Tomasello.

“In the worst case, you can go in with a conditional use) permit,” Tomasello said.

Councilman Randy Miller (no relation to Roger) said he should be allowed to continue even if he has to get an extension on his building permit.

“There would have to be a compelling reason not to continue,” the councilman said.