By Paul Thompson
The Grandview Board of Aldermen has appealed to a higher authority to overturn a controversial variance accepted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) at a July public hearing.
In a Verified Petition for a Writ of Certiorari filed last week in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, the City of Grandview sought a judicial review of the granted variance - which would allow a used car wholesaler charity (the Auto Donation Center) to operate along the city’s east frontage road - due to a lack of competent and substantial evidence provided to the ZBA. The document alleges that the ZBA “exceeded the authority granted to it by usurping the legislative function of the Board of Aldermen.”
City officials say that the filing was not meant to be contentious, and that it is simply a formality.
“Keep in mind, this is not a lawsuit against the individual members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment,” said special counsel for the City of Grandview, Joe Gall. “It’s just the process that the statute mandates be followed. The Board of Aldermen just feels that this variance shouldn’t have been granted.”
Some members of the ZBA, though, were nonplussed to find out about the litigation being pursued by the city.
“I don’t know what they’re doing half the time,” said Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman Thomas W. Clemons. “I’m so fed up with the Board of Aldermen. If they’re going to decide it, what are we there for?”
The ZBA public hearing in question has been a source of controversy for months. In addition to confusion about the intention of votes held during the hearing the city has long held that the variance should legally have never been granted.
Because the location of the site is within 1,500 feet of other conditional uses (specifically, five used auto sales businesses, a tattoo parlor, and a check cashing establishment), any other such business is required to fulfill each of five variance criteria. At the time of the hearing, city officials recommended that the ZBA reject the variance request, citing a lack of evidence of those criteria. Michael Lane, who runs the Auto Donation Center, was so put off by the combative nature of the hearing that he wrote a letter to the city deriding the “extremely hostile and bitter bias” displayed by city officials.
Ultimately, Clemons said that the ZBA felt granting the variance for the Auto Donation Center was the right thing to do for the city.
“Everybody just kind of thought ‘why not,’” Clemons said of the decision, which included a caveat
that the variance would apply only to the Auto Donation Center. “We just had to use a little common sense.”
Unfortunately, the city ordinance regarding special use permits is ironclad. City officials maintain that they don’t have an issue with the idea behind the Auto Donation Center, but merely feel that the business does not fulfill all five requirements in order to grant a variance. Under this thinking, the ZBA made their decision based on a disagreement with city ordinance, and flouted their duties as a board in granting the variance.
The issue came up again at an October 10 Board of Aldermen public hearing, where several members of the community, including nearby residents and businessowners, defended the ZBA’s decision to grant the variance. The Board of Aldermen did not vote on the variance at that session, and the issue was also not present on the October 22 agenda.
Former ZBA member Jan Martinette, who resigned from the board earlier this month, asked during that hearing for changes in the zoning ordinance.
“I dare you to change these zoning things in a timely manner,” said Martinette at the October 10 public hearing. “(The board has) to vote no or else we’re breaking the law. There is no possibility for the board to give a variance, according to the rules.”
Grandview mayor Steve Dennis acknowledged at the meeting that he had no qualms with the mission of the Auto Donation Center, but reiterated that the city always tried to be uniform in following its zoning guidelines to the letter of the law.
Last week’s filing on behalf of the Board of Aldermen assures that the matter will be decided by the letter of the law, in the hands of a Jackson County Circuit Court judge.
“There are avenues available if someone or somebody feels aggrieved by the decisions made by the
Zoning Board of Adjustment,” said Grandview’s Community Development Director Chris Chiodini of the pending litigation. “It’s weighted on the evidence that’s presented in the application and in the public hearing.”
City attorney Gall says that a decision should come from the circuit courts sooner rather than later.
“The statute says that it’s going to be given an expedited processing,” said Gall. “If he accepts it, he would issue the writ to the city.”